Cemetery installs solar array to power mausoleum

New Mt. Sinai Cemetery installed an array of solar panels to power its mausoleum.  

By David Baugher, Special to the Jewish Light

Cemeteries may seem like the last place you’d expect to find cutting-edge innovation and technology, but one local one is working to change that expectation.

“While we have 19th-century origins, we are a very progressive cemetery,” said Dan Brodsky, who is executive director of New Mount Sinai Cemetery, which recently installed a field of solar panels on its property. Measuring about 65 feet by 80 feet, the solar array of 90 panels, which went into operation this month, can generate a peak capacity of 25 kilowatts.

The panels will be used to power facilities within the mausoleum.

“It is a beautiful building, but it also uses a lot of electricity,” Brodsky said. “We decided over a year ago to explore putting up a solar array. Originally, we were going to put it on the roof, but the roof is not a straight, flat surface, so we had to go with what they call ground-mounted.”

Advertisement for the J

The panels are mounted about three feet off the ground behind the mausoleum so they cannot be seen from the road.

Brodsky said the cemetery, which predates the Civil War, spent only about $10,000 for the $50,000 project, with the rest being handled through an incentive program from Ameren electric.

“We were at the very tail end of rebates Ameren was giving out last year,” he said. “We just got in under the wire.”

New Mount Sinai must cover other expenses, however, including the installation of weed block and fencing.

“When all is said and done, we’ll probably end up with about $20,000 invested in it, but we’re saving several hundred dollars per month, so we’ll hit the break-even point on our expenses in less than five years,” Brodsky said.

Ameren will even pay for any excess power that can be sold back to the company. However, Brodsky said, that is unlikely to net any significant revenue. The idea is just to make the mausoleum sustainable.

“Our net expenditure going forward should be zero,” he said.

Cemetery board member Richard Brickson said the panels, which are rated to last about 25 years, would ultimately cover its own costs. 

“After we pay for the system, which shouldn’t take too long, we’ll have free electricity for a whole lot of years,” he said.

Brickson said the idea had been talked about before he was on the board but was never implemented. However, he’d been involved with a similar project at Crossroads College Preparatory School.

“Their system was successful,” he said. “They loved it. They still love it. … That seemed to me the kind of thing that it would be helpful for us to be able to do at the cemetery.”

Brodsky said the cemetery hasn’t had a lot of feedback on the solar array yet, “but I’m sure it will be very positive once people find out we are trying to be environmentally conscious as well as very 21st century.”

Brickson agreed.

“People make decisions about where they are going to bury their loved ones on many different kinds of bases, and they make them at different points in their life,” he said. “Whether this will be a sales point, I don’t know. It will just make us feel better about the fact that we have managed one of our costs functionally to zero for the reasonably foreseeable future.”

Brodsky said that if more rebates are offered eventually, the installation might be expanded.

“We hope if there are incentives down the road, we can do another installation, because our office and shop also use a lot of electricity,” he said. “We’re hoping this is just the beginning phase for us to have solar elsewhere in the cemetery.”

Brodsky says he’s proud to say that he thinks New Mount Sinai is the only cemetery in town to use solar power.

“I’ve got colleagues in LA and on the East Coast, and none of them have solar panels up,” he said.