Church groups are speaking out in favor of wider access to solar power.
“The mission of Interfaith Power & Light is to be faithful stewards of Creation by responding to global warming through the promotion of energy conservation, energy efficiency, and renewable energy. This campaign intends to protect the earth’s ecosystems, safeguard the health of all Creation, and ensure sufficient, sustainable energy for all.”
So reads the mission statement of the nation’s largest group of faith-based solar advocates, Interfaith Power and Light (IP&L). Since their beginnings almost 25 years ago, IP&L have grown from a small, local California organization to have active chapters in more than 40 states. Not only are they educating clergy and church members about the importance of conserving the resources God has given them, but now, IP&L are getting active in legal and political battles to make solar more accessible to congregations who want to install solar power at their house of worship.
In North Carolina, Greensboro Faith Community Church is locking horns with Duke Energy over a power purchase agreement (PPA) that the church entered into with environmental non-profit group NC WARN (North Carolina Waste Awareness & Reduction Network.) According to an article in the Charlotte Business Journal, “NC WARN paid for a 5.6-kilowatt solar installation and has agreed to sell the church the power from the project at a fixed price for three years.” The article states that “N.C. Interfaith Power & Light wants the coming ruling in a case involving NC WARN’s sale of solar power to a Greensboro church to open the way for all churches to make similar deals.
The group told the N.C. Utilities Commission in a filing Thursday that ‘faith congregations recognize a moral responsibility, as stewards of Creation, to expand access to clean, renewable solar power.’”
Faith Community Church is not the only North Carolina Church taking its environmental stewardship seriously. When Pope Francis in his Encyclical Laudato Si told catholics to care for the earth, St. Eugene Catholic Church on Asheville heard the call, installing 146 solar panels. When completed, this will produce 46,720 watts of power. The project was announced on Solar Sunday, March 8 and fund-raising was completed six months and a day later.
Working with Hoosier Interfaith Power and Light, Progressive Community Church in Gary, Indiana is preparing to install solar panels on the church in the Emerson neighborhood.
“There is a lot of positive energy that is being created and light and love, literally light from above, that makes us poised to make a change,” Curtis Whittaker said.
Whittaker understands the environmental importance of caring for the earth, but he also understands the economic needs of his flock. “Why can’t we provide solar panels for low-income families?” Whittaker said. “On average, 35 to 40 percent of a household budget is spent on energy. If we can help them recapture those dollars and use them in another way, they can be less reliant on assistance, we can help the environment, create jobs.”
In many states, utility companies are waging expensive legal battles to prevent homeowners and businesses in their service territories from entering into power purchase agreements with solar providers. Churches and low-income individuals are often the unwitting victims of these anti-PPA efforts, because without the ability to take advantage of tax incentives, the up-front cost of solar is prohibitive. By entering into a PPA with a third party provider, churches can avoid the capital investment costs, and still take advantage of the sun’s clean, renewable energy.
With more PPA battles ahead, expect to see more church groups speaking out in favor of wider access to solar power.