On January 16th, nearly 40 Houses of Worship were represented by about 77 people at the Solar for Congregations event co-hosted by GoGreen Wilmette and Beth Hillel Bnai Emunah in their SPAK Auditorium.
Thank you to everyone who attended and showed enthusiastic interest in bringing solar energy to your house of worship!
Faith in Place Executive Director, Rev. Brian Sauder, gave the keynote address. He introduced the audience to our core organizing model: Green Teams. When a small group of people at a House of Worship regularly gather together to address climate change within their community, they can create lasting impact.
This was Brian's key take-away: that accomplishing big projects such as solar panels are a journey. It's important to take smaller steps with your community first so that members are educated on climate issues and willing to commit to such an expensive retrofit as solar panels.
Partnered with a Coach from our staff – who can provide resources, program updates, and mentorship – Green Teams are empowered to set and acheive their goals. What's important is that Green Teams should pace themselves, especially when making plans to take on a large project, such as installing solar panels or geothermal heating like Countryside Church UU and Unity Temple respectively.
That's where Faith in Place can really support you!
Our staff are committed to contextualizing today's environmental problems within a moral, environmental justice framework. As you generate buy-in, you can motivate your House of Worship by highlighting how energy conservation is a moral opportunity to do right by our neighbors both near and far.
Energy conservation, or reducing our demand on traditional energy sources, is the easiest and most effective way to promote environmental justice.
Since coal-fired and natural gas-burning power plants are the largest emitters of carbon dioxide (a greenhouse gas that causes climate change), they directly contribute to climate change’s negative impacts, like more extreme weather patterns.
These negative impacts of climate change are disproportionately felt by people and countries that did the least to cause the problem and can least afford to respond to the resulting natural and economic disasters.(1)
Not only do fossil fuel power plants contribute to injustice on a global scale, the problems also impact our neighbors here in Illinois who live close to power plants and breathe in toxic pollution that exacerbate asthma, respiratory problems, and other health concerns.
Did you know Illinois has the most fossil fuel burning plants located in communities of color in the entire country?!(2)
We have the power to use this knowledge about the ways our traditional energy sources disproportionately harm people of color to motivate our own action.
Faith communities are uniquely suited to promoting such action because many of our traditions seek harmony with the world and because we have buildings that outwardly display our values.
If your faith community has done an educational event and is looking to take the next step toward energy efficiency, an energy audit of your House of Worship can serve as both action and education. Our consultants give you data on the performance of your building and suggest retrofits tailored to your specific needs. Many of those changes are as simple as changing incandescent lightbulbs to LED lightbulbs or adding pipe insulation to reduce heat loss. Sometimes, Houses of Worship need a new furnace.
We suggest retrofitting these features first before exploring renewable sources of energy. Even though solar panels on your roof can serve as a visible sign to the wider community that you are living out your values and are committed to reducing your carbon footprint and caring for the Earth, these energy efficiency updates help keep the heat and lights on, often at less cost, too. That’s a huge benefit as many Houses of Worship struggle to pay those bills in an era when attendance is falling.
Whether you are exploring energy efficiency retrofits or solar panels, the high cost can seem daunting. There are several ways to finance the investment and take advantage of incentives and energy savings.
Our Nonprofit Green Lending Program is one of many fantastic ways to finance any of these projects. We've partnered with Illinois State Treasurer, Michael Frerichs, and Everence Federal Credit Union to reduce the barriers your House of Worship may have accessing capital.
Many Houses of Worship choose to pay for their solar panels through what is known as a “Power Purchase Agreement.” In this arrangement, houses of worship partner with the solar installation company – a for-profit, private firm that actually owns the panels and can take advantage of the tax incentives that are available to individuals and businesses, but not non-profit faith communities.
Under this model, the House of Worship makes an initial investment payment, then leases the panels to the installation company and purchases electricity from them. The installation company benefits from the tax incentives and selling Solar Renewable Energy Credits to the local utility, and your faith community benefits from a more affordable way to purchase solar panels. After about 6 to 7 years, the house of worship can buy out the panels from the company for a small payment and then own them outright.
Your community may also decide that your building is not necessarily suited to a solar installation, but that's not the only way to connect to the smart energy grid. Community solar could be a better option.
Whether your house of worship undertakes energy efficiency upgrades, installs solar on-site, or joins a community solar project, another component of ensuring justice is ensuring that jobs in the green energy economy are accessible to communities most harmed by environmental injustices.
Within these communities, returning citizens (people with records) and alumni of the foster care system are at elevated risk for incarceration due to a lack of economic opportunity.
Faith in Place helped incorporate provisions for solar job training programs into the Future Energy Jobs Act (which passed in Illinois in 2016) to specifically empower returning citizens and alumni of the foster care system. We are currently implementing solar installation job training programs with several other partnering organizations.
Yet, a job training program is not enough on its own; there must be job opportunities available for program candidates once they graduate. Thus, we encourage faith communities to hire energy efficiency and solar companies who hire training program graduates and people who can most benefit from the good-paying jobs in these growing sectors.
Learn more about all of the opportunities for energy conservation and going solar in the resources below. Please contact us with any questions.
Whatever you decide, we're thrilled to partner with you along the path toward a more sustainable future and can't wait to celebrate all your victories (and even your challenges) along the way!
WBEZ Worldview Host, Jerome McDonnell interviewed Dan Huntsha, North & West Suburbs Outreach Director, ahead of the Solar for Faith Communities event. Listen to the conversation and learn about some of our Southern Illinois partners who are installing solar.
Read the slides here: