Churches go green
Churches, mosques, and synagogues look for ways to make their buildings more energy efficient, both to heed ethical imperatives against waste, and also to save money.
As the sun lights up the brilliant stained-glass windows of this 19th-century Gothic sanctuary, the small congregation at St. John's Episcopal Church listens intently to a sermon from a visiting layman.Skip to next paragraph
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"As people of faith, we are called in different ways to love our God and to love our neighbors," says Steven MacAusland, a fellow Episcopalian. "I am with you today to discuss energy. What is the connection?"
The cofounder of Massachusetts Interfaith Power & Light (MIP&L), Mr. MacAusland speaks of the effects of energy consumption and the need to reduce greenhouse gas emissions to stabilize the earth's climate. He isn't preaching political activism, he says, but is offering a way for the church to practice its own ministry of care for neighbors and future generations. Next week, members will vote on whether to join MIP&L.
As evidence of global warming has mounted, congregations across the US are examining their habits and asking what their faith demands of them in response. Catholic, Protestant, and Jewish groups have turned to scripture for guidance.
Houses of worship, it turns out, are some of the biggest wasters of energy on a per capita, per hour-of-use basis.
With help from an interfaith power and light movement now spreading around the country, churches and other religious institutions are cutting back on energy consumption, investing in more efficient heating and lighting systems, buying renewable energy, and even, on occasion, joining the effort to "build green."
Congregations that practice environmental stewardship can save 30 percent on their utility bills, says the US Environmental Protection Agency. If all US congregations did the same, they'd save an estimated $573 million annually and prevent 6 million tons of CO2 from polluting the air - the equivalent of taking 1 million cars off the road.
Conserving congregations see direct financial as well as environmental benefits. For instance:
• By installing solar panels on the roof and changing lighting, Christ Church in Ontario, Calif., saw its summer utility bills drop from $600 to $20 a month.
• All Saints Episcopal Church in Brookline, Mass., which installed a new boiler with zoned heating, programmable thermostats, and more efficient lighting, was rewarded with annual savings of $17,000. They've used 14 percent of the savings to buy 100 percent renewable energy, further reducing pollutants.
• Hebron Baptist Church in Dacula, Ga., revamped its lighting system, converting fixtures and exit signs. They're saving $32,000 a year in church expenses and 450,000 kilowatt hours of energy.
Churches, synagogues, mosques, and temples get help for stewardship efforts in EPA's Energy Star program, which identifies equipment, appliances, and lighting products that are energy efficient and provides some funding (www.energystar.gov).
The interfaith power and light movement, now active in about a dozen states, aims to help congregations by providing ready access to technical services for efficiency upgrades; information on funding resources; and a means for purchasing solar, wind, or landfill gas power.
The movement - sparked in California by an interfaith discussion on how to respond to global warming - began in the late '90s in the Episcopal church. After gaining backing from the state's bishops, MacAusland and Sally Bingham, a priest at Grace Cathedral in San Francisco, formed Episcopal Power & Light (EP&L) as California was deregulating the electrical industry.
"Suddenly people were going to have choices about where their electricity came from, and we focused on clean energy," says the Rev. Ms. Bingham. Within two years, 60 Episcopal churches were buying renewable energy from Green Mountain Energy and using conservation measures.
"Renewable energy is the most exciting part of the program - getting power from the sun and wind," says MacAusland. "But you need to build your base on energy conservation and efficiency, and by saving energy and money you can begin to afford premium grades of power."
Green-energy products will cost more until they are fully developed. In Massachusetts, one product, ReGen, currently costs 3 cents more a kilowatt hour, about 60 cents more a day for an average home, MacAusland says.