Project Solarize Kehillah

What is Project Solarize Kehillah?

Project Solarize Kehillah aims to help Kehillah Synagogue reduce environmental pollution by installing roof-top photovoltaic (PV) panels to generate part of the electricity our building uses. This important project will raise community awareness of global climate change and will highlight some of the many ways individuals and families can take action.

Project Status

November 17, 2015 Update (Final Update)

Our system is complete and generating electricity! You can monitor our power production by clicking here.

August 25, 2015 Update

The panels are on the roof!


August 10, 2015 Update

As we reported in the last update (below), we’ve signed a contract with Baker Renewable Energy to build our solar power system. We’ve met several times with Baker and have agreed on the design of the system.   The structural engineering analysis to ensure that the building can handle the additional weight and wind load has been completed and both the Town of Chapel Hill and Duke Energy have approved the project.

Construction will start later this month (August) and is expected to take two or three weeks.  We’re told that the panels go on last, so it will seem like little is happening and then, all of the sudden, when the panels go up, we’ll be nearly done!

April 29, 2015 Update

The fundraising phase of Solarize Kehillah is now complete. We have received $106,470, which is more than 113% of our target! We are especially pleased that the majority of our community participated: 106 members contributed (out of 170 total members), with additional donations from 10 non-members, 5 children of members, and 7 religious school classes.

Now, on to the fun part – building the system and reaping the benefits of lower greenhouse gas emissions.  We have signed a contract with Baker Renewable Energy to build our solar power system on the sanctuary roof! Assuming no changes are made during the design and permitting reviews, the system will consist of 156 panels with a power generation capability of 47 kilowatts. We selected this system from among five proposals submitted by three vendors.

The system is estimated to produce 64,000 kilowatt-hours of energy per year, which is about 75% of the Kehillah’s annual energy consumption. According to the EPA’s greenhouse gas equivalencies calculator, this will save about 48 tons of carbon dioxide emissions every year, the equivalent of burning 47,000 pounds of coal.

The system will produce more energy than the 43% we originally envisioned because you, the donors, were so incredibly generous that we exceeded our fundraising target, and because Baker’s proposal was much more cost effective than we expected.

Project Information

Read a brief project overview in the Kehillah’s November/December 2014 newsletter.

If you missed the kickoff meetings on December 7th, you can watch it here.  A concise PowerPoint slide presentation is here.

If you want full details now, read straight through.  Otherwise skip around to whatever topics interest you:

The Concept

The concept is simple: We put PV panels on the Sanctuary roof, which generate electricity when it is sunny.  The electricity is fed into the building’s electrical system, where it is either used directly or fed into Duke Energy’s grid.

If we use the electricity directly, we purchase less power from Duke Energy, reducing the amount of fossil fuel they burn; if it is fed into the grid, it reduces the power Duke needs to generate to meet demand from other customers, again reducing the amount of fossil fuel burned.  This approach is called net-metering because the power our PV panels generate runs the electric  meter backwards.

The number and placement of the panels depends on how much money we raise.  Here are concept sketches for both a large and a small system:

Large PV System Concept

Concept drawing for a 31.2 kW PV System

Small PV System Concept

Concept drawing for a 10.4kW PV system.

Why is Project Solarize Kehillah Important?


  • Climate change caused by human activity is now irrefutable and fossil-fuel-based electricity generation is a major contributor to climate change globally.
  • In fact, fossil-fuel-based electricity generation is the source of 31% of greenhouse gas emissions in the United States.
  • Locally, the current and potential future environmental impact across North Carolina of Duke Energy’s 102 million tons of coal ash stored in 33 basins has recently become apparent.

Given weak government and industry response to these challenges, we must act both to:

  • Reduce our contribution to these problems (Tikkun Olam) and
  • Demonstrate leadership that encourages others to act (Hishtatfut).  An effective way to do both is to use PV technology to reduce our consumption of fossil-fuel-based electricity.

What is the Kehillah’s Carbon Footprint?

The Kehillah uses about 85,000 kilowatt-hours (kWh) of electricity per year, which, according to the EPA’s Greenhouse Gas Equivalencies Calculator, is equivalent to:

  • 58.6 metric tons of carbon dioxide emitted
  • Burning 62,956 pounds of coal
  • The annual greenhouse gas emissions of 12.3 cars.

What Would it Save?

A large system would generate more than 40% of the power we use, without creating greenhouse gases or coal ash. Imagine the impact: more than 23 metric tons of carbon dioxide not emitted, equivalent to savings of the annual greenhouse gas emissions of about five cars.

Every year over the projected 25-year lifetime of the system!

And, of course, the Kehillah’s power bill (currently $9,000 year) will be reduced too.

What Would it Cost?

Here are some typical ranges in the proposals we’ve received:

Generation Capacity (kW) Estimated Annual Production (kWh) Percentage of Current Annual Usage Cost ($)
10.4 12,054 14% $36,484
20.8 24,107 28% $63,108
31.2 36,161 43% $93,476
Generation capacity is the number of kilowatts (a unit of power) the panels can generate in full sunlight; estimated annual production is the number of kilowatt-hours (a unit of energy) estimated to be produced in a typical year, accounting for weather and seasonal variations; percentage of current annual usage is the percentage of the Kehillah’s current electricity usage that would be replaced by the estimated annual production; cost is the cost of building and installing the system.
These data are just to give a sense of what’s possible.  The PV system can be sized to the money we have to spend.  As we work with the vendors, we’d expect some changes as we dig into more details and evaluate tradeoffs such as cost vs. warranty, cost vs. vendor reputation, etc.

How Will We Get the Money?

That’s where you come in.  This is a community effort to raise the money to reduce our impact on the environment.

We are helped by North Carolina’s 35% tax credit on solar energy projects that are completed by the end of 2015.  Combined with other tax benefits, it costs a donor less than 50 cents to fund purchase of a dollar’s worth of PV capacity.  So, a $100,000 system costs donors less than $50,000.

Although as a non-profit the Kehillah can’t make use of a tax credit, the law lets donors to renewable energy projects get their pro-rata share of the tax credit the non-profit would have received.  Donate $1,000 to Solarize Kehillah and you’ll receive a $350 NC income tax credit PLUS the usual Federal charitable contribution deduction.

Here is an example for a typical person with a 25% marginal Federal tax rate:

  • Donate $1,000 (just a nice round number — all donations welcome and important!).
  • Get a $350 NC income tax credit in 2015.
  • Take a $1,000 charitable contribution deduction on Federal income tax. This is worth $250.
  • Pay Federal income tax on the NC income tax credit. This costs $87.50.

It costs only $487.50 to contribute $1,000 to Project Solarize Kehillah.  (Consult your tax advisor for your particular situation.)

Can We Do It?


The fundraising phase of Solarize Kehillah is now complete. We have received $106,470, which is more than 113% of our target. Many thanks to all who have participated in getting us this far.

How Can I Donate?

Instructions are here. (Fundraising is now complete and donations are no longer being accepted.  If you’d like to donate to Kehillah Synagogue, please donate to one of the many other worthy causes.)

I Can Only Give a Little

This is about the whole community helping the Earth that we all share.  Sure, we’ll need some people who can donate thousands of dollars.  But it is equally important that everyone participate in whatever way they want to and can.  Donations of any size matter and will increase the solar on our roof and decrease our carbon footprint that much more.  So even coins that children save in their Tzedakah boxes matter.

In fact, a generous Kehillah family will donate an additional $50 for every Kehillah family that makes a donation in any amount to Project Solarize Kehillah.

What’s the Timetable?

To be eligible for the NC tax credit, Solarize Kehillah must be producing power by the end of 2015, when the renewable energy tax credit legislation expires. Let’s work backwards from that:

  • December 31, 2015: system must be in production
  • March 31, 2015: sign a contract with a vendor leaving enough time to ensure completion by the deadline
  • March 15, 2015: have the money in hand from all pledges, so that we can size the system we build to the funds we have
  • February 15, 2015: pledge drive ends
  • December 7, 2014: Solarize Kehillah kickoff meetings.  See the video.

How Can I Help Beyond Donating Money?

  • Talk to your friends to encourage them to participate too.
  • Help solicit donations from your friends.  Click here to send an email with your contact information and interest and we’ll get back to you quickly.
  • Help publicize by distributing flyers at various Kehillah events.
  • Talk to your children about why you’re participating in Solarize Kehillah and how it helps the Earth.