MUNCIE — A solar energy construction spree is in progress throughout the city to cut utility bills, educate the public and fight climate change.

Installation of solar panels is under way at the Youth Opportunity Center, to be followed by more projects at Kennedy Library, an ecoREHAB house in the Old West End, the Unitarian Universalist Church on the northwest side and Shaffer Chapel AME Church in Whitely.

"This sort of project can really bring in a lot of diverse people," said Chris Randolph, pastor at Shaffer Chapel, a predominantly African-American denomination. "Solar energy crosses all boundaries. There is no one that doesn't want to have better energy and pay less. If we can do it at the church, then we can do it at homes."

ecoREHAB, a nonprofit organization that collaborates with Ball State University and the city, is installing eight solar panels — each measuring about 3 feet by 7 feet and weighing 50 pounds — on the roof of a house that it rehabilitated at 522 S.Gharkey St.

"We are hoping that will be enough solar panels to bring the house down to net zero electricity consumption, so we are using as much as we produce or producing as much as we use," said ecoREHAB's Craig Graybeal.

The house is heated with gas but air-conditioned with electricity, which also runs the appliances, lights and plug loads.

When you factor in tax credits, electricity savings and feeding power back into the grid, the payback period (how long until you break even) for a residential solar project like ecoREHAB's is eight or nine years, Graybeal said. Because it's a nonprofit, ecoREHAB is ineligible for tax credits, but it did receive a grant to cover half of the project's $8,500 cost.

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