On Monday, January 3rd at 7:30pm the Main Line Chapter of PA IPL welcomed Liz Robinson of the Philadelphia Solar Energy Association (PSEA) to lead a program titled “Electrify Your Life.” In this program we explored how to make your electricity clean, how to use less energy, then move to electrifying heating, water heating, cooking, other appliances, lawn care, and transportation. Ms. Robinson also explains that, with the passage of the Infrastructure Bill and possibly the Build Back Better Bill, many new incentives will be in place to help people get fossil fuels out of their lives.
Liz Robinson is the Executive Director of the PSEA, a nonprofit dedicated to expanding solar energy across the state. PSEA conducts STEM education projects designed to increase students’ understanding and engagement in solar energy and related technologies. Prior to coming to PSEA, Liz founded and directed the Energy Coordinating Agency (ECA) for more than 30 years. ECA provides energy efficiency, education, workforce development, home repair, and bill payment assistance services to thousands of residential households every year in PA and Delaware. Liz co-founded and directed the Keystone Energy Efficiency Alliance (KEEA) the energy efficiency trade association for Pennsylvania and New Jersey. She also managed the Energy Cooperative Association of Philadelphia (ECAP), expanding it to a regional organization and taking it into the renewable energy market.
It is important to preach about our moral and ethical responsibility to live actively as stewards of creation and then seek ways to tend to the garden of creation. This can be from the pulpit, a green team, youth and adult education, or by becoming engaged in organizations such as your state’s IPL. In this way the impact of sermons, film screenings, education, and actively living as stewards shine as exemplars for others. The impact flows out through the congregation so that the individuals can adopt the same practices and they act as agents of change in the world. One congregation building becomes a community of care, and the impact is multiplied.
Assist frontline and low-income communities to adopt practices that offset the same carbon footprints/ emissions/ impacts. Not all communities have the same resources. Working with, and I very deliberately mean with, other congregations can further directly spread the impact of your congregation’s efforts.
Plant trees on your congregation’s property or anywhere you can. PA IPL and the Chesapeake Bay Fund, as well as many other sources, will provide low or no cost trees for you to plant. Not only do these plantings mitigate flooding and support native biodiversity but they also serve as a natural form of carbon capture. Paralleling the plantings, the removal of invasive species and the planting native gardens further support biodiversity and carbon capture with minimal if any addition to your carbon footprint.
Community and Vegetable Gardens
Not only do such projects serve as a unifying, education, and fun activity for the community which encourages mental health and a connection to our natural environment and food source it also can help reduce meat consumption as well food transportation. Much of our food is transported long distances and stored in large stores both of which produce significant carbon footprints while the growing of industrial scale crops can also produce significant emissions through the use of fertilizers and industrial equipment. This is putting aside the carbon and environmental impact of the meat industry. Gardens can serve as a further method of natural carbon capture just like tree planting.
Investments and Divest
If the congregation or its members have investments in fossil fuel industry it is important to divest and then re-invest in green sustainable renewable alternatives such as solar, wind, geothermal, etc. as well as companies which truly support these industries. The future of our economy is underway, and investments can help accelerate the transition so that we can mitigate the worst impacts of climate change. The industry and economy will follow the money.
Reduce, Reuse, Recycle
It may be cliché, but it is absolutely important that the congregation and its members take this adage to heart. When planning and holding events or regular activities it is important to consider the ways in which we can reduce our consumption, purchase things we can reuse, or at least things we can recycle. The impact of the congregation can be multiplied by the adoption of such practices by the members. This will again assist in the transition to a new economy.
Purchase low carbon goods
Paralleling the three R’s the purchase of locally grown and made goods as well as those which utilize the fewest chemicals, and the least harmful practices here and abroad is an important larger step. Even if we use less, or can reuse, or recycle an item the whole life of the products is important.
An energy audit, especially for older structures can be an important step, and PA IPL has someone who does an initial assessment for free and has expertise in congregational structures. There are however also simple ways we can weatherize today. It is important to check and maintain your HVAC systems regularly so that it is functioning efficiently to reduce cost and waste. Additionally, congregations can install programable thermostats which control use throughout the day and according to temperature changes. The efficiency of HVAC systems and thermostats are increased by the proper door, wall, and window insulation all of which aid in the efficiency of the system.
Other efficiency are the purchase of LED light bulbs, smart switch, and high efficiency appliances while also removing ghost loads, which draw energy even when not in use.
Purchase Sustainable Green Renewable Energy
Many competitive energy options exist through state energy exchanges which allow you to purchase part or all of your energy use from sustainable green renewable energy sources.
Installation of Sustainable Green Renewable Energy
Not all congregations are in the position to purchase their own installation, but solar arrays, windmills, and geothermal systems are all viable options which offer financial benefits and serve as an example for the broader public but also are obviously large commitments to stewardship. PA IPL and others are able to assist congregations in navigating the financing options and the process. In September PA IPL is having an event with experts to specifically discuss how to purchase a solar array.
While not all congregations or individuals are interested in getting involved in advocacy, it is important to remember that advocating on behalf of climate justice and sustainable green renewable energy with elected officials and policy makers is a vital part of our impact. Too often congregations are too worried to speak up for their moral and ethical commitments. If we do not speak up someone else will speak for us. If we do not act we are not protecting ourselves, others, and our environment as God expects of us. Without changes in the ways governments (local, state, and federal) and industries operate there is only so much an individual can do. People, government, and industry are the three legs of the solution.
PA IPL also has a congregation tool kit which allows congregations to explore how to do this for themselves. Look for updates on our website.
In addition to the IPL Cool Congregation there are many examples of what has been done across PA and the USA. Christ Covenant Church in Harleysville for example, installed a large ground based solar array which covers on average 90% of their energy use for multiple buildings, new, old, and modified. Solar arrays at congregations such as Christ Covenant serve as an educational tool for the congregation, especially the youth education programs, and will in the course of its 30 year lifespan of the array produce more than double the value of the upfront investment of the congregation. Moreover, if Pennsylvania had a better community solar or SRAC (solar renewable energy credit) policy the energy production in the summer which is 2 to 3 times the usage would have made the solar array even more profitable. On August 27th, 2021 PA IPL held a solar tour at Christ Covenant with elected officials and others. There is a video on PA IPL’s website which is a combination of video from this tour and a second tour in Allegany County. PA IPL hopes to invite other congregations in the future to join us at Christ Covenant and elsewhere to tour these installations and see the greening congregations are doing to reduce consumption, adopt alternative energy sources, and live actively as stewards of creation.