Solar synagogue

Conservation and religion unite on the roof of Temple Sinai

Wendy Alderman stands beneath the newly installed solar panels and beside solar thermal panels at Temple Sinai in Reno.

Wendy Alderman stands beneath the newly installed solar panels and beside solar thermal panels at Temple Sinai in Reno.

Photo By Kat Kerlin

For more information or to apply for solar, wind and hydro power rebates, visit the Renewable Generations page at NVEnergy’s website.

When the original building at Temple Sinai in Reno was constructed in 1970, its builders probably weren’t thinking about solar power. But you couldn’t ask for a much better place for it. It is absolute south-facing glory.

“This roof is just blatantly yelling ‘put something on me,'” says Wendy Alderman, who took a major role in getting solar power for the temple. “One of the principles of Judaism is healing the world, and this is part of that. I really think it’s important to lead by example.”

Visitors to the Jewish synagogue are met at the entrance by 72 gleaming black photovoltaic panels lying flat against the sanctuary’s roof. The 15-kilowatt system subtly absorbs the sun, converting its energy into power that is estimated to provide about half of the temple’s needs. Another component, two thermal collectors, is installed outside the sanctuary’s south-facing wall.

Rabbi Myra Soifer says environmental protection is a theme that runs through many Jewish practices and holidays, such as Tu B’Shevat. “It’s an important part of the Jewish faith and for all religious faiths,” she says.

Alderman was part of the temple’s design committee for other new building additions that were recently completed. The temple had reinsulated the buildings, caulked and sealed what they could, installed more efficient lighting and fixtures and put timers on thermostats. Solar was the next step, albeit a lofty one. Fortunately, Alderman, who once worked for local solar installation company Independent Power Corporation, was savvy about solar power and potential rebates the synagogue could get through the SolarGenerations program.

The Public Utilities Commission of Nevada only recently decided to allow churches, synagogues and nonprofits to be considered public buildings, a designation that allows them to apply for a bigger rebate—$4.60 per watt compared to $2.30 per watt for residences and small businesses. So Temple Sinai applied for the rebate in August 2007, got their award letter this May, and finished installing the system over six days in early December.

Though the system is expected to save the synagogue about $2,000-$3,000 a year in energy costs, roughly $143,000 upfront was needed to get them installed. While the rebate covers about half of that, it doesn’t come until later. An anonymous donor stepped in to front the cash, and he or she will get the rebate once it arrives, while the rest is considered a donation, says Alderman.

“This gives us both a financial benefit of covering our costs and making a difference in terms of leaving a carbon footprint,” says Alderman. “It all comes down to stewardship.”