West Virginia Church Earns Award for Solar Energy Use

Shepherdstown Presbyterian Church earns top award from Interfaith Power & Light

SHEPHERDSTOWN, W.Va.Shepherdstown Presbyterian Church has been honored by Interfaith Power & Light (IPL) as a first place winner in its annual Cool Congregations Challenge. The award, which was announced to coincide with Earth Day, is given to exemplary faith communities modeling climate solutions and earth stewardship in dozens of inspiring projects across the nation.

Photo courtesy of Solar Holler
Photo courtesy of Solar Holler

The winning faith communities represent many different religious backgrounds, but all share a common mission – to respond to the threat of climate change by taking concrete actions with tangible carbon reductions. The Rev. Canon Sally Bingham, founder and president of IPL, said, “It’s very inspiring to see so many congregations stepping up in response to climate change, especially this year as global leaders prepare to meet in Paris to discuss the reduction of global carbon pollution and the climate crisis. IPL’s Cool Congregations are leaders. They’re not waiting until 2030 or 2050 to make a difference – they’re showing us that cutting emissions by 50 percent or more is not only possible now, but many have even gone carbon neutral.”

On average, winners and runners-up saved $8,000 a year on their energy bill, and prevented 58 metric tons of CO2 from entering the atmosphere (per congregation). All first place Cool Congregations Challenge winners receive a $1,000 cash prize.

Challenge winners, runners-up, and honorable mentions have been awarded in five categories that include: Energy Saver, Renewable Role Model, Sacred Grounds Steward, Community Inspiration, and Cool Planner. Final entries were received in January and judged by a panel of experts from IPL, EPA’s Energy Star, the U.S. Green Building Council, and Nature’s Friends Institute. Judges favored projects with well-defined and measurable objectives for climate benefit; creativity and resourcefulness in executing the project; congregant and/or community engagement; and inspirational stories.

Shepherdstown Presbyterian Church earned its award for being the top renewable role model in the nation for, among other reasons, having the largest community-supported solar system in West Virginia.

According to the IPL website, “In a first of its kind project, residents and businesses in this small town in Jefferson County, W.Va. came together to do what was once seemingly impossible – making solar power affordable for any church or non-profit in one of the most coal-dependent states in America. Nearly 100 families and businesses in and around Shepherdstown made the project possible through an innovative crowd funding campaign. Working with Solar Holler, the Church was able to go solar with no cost – upfront or in the future. Instead, funding for the project was raised through the installation of demand response controllers on community members’ electric water heaters. The water heater controllers were installed and operated by Mosaic Power, a smart grid technology company in Frederick, Md. Mosaic Power manages water heaters as a virtual power plant – responding to the electricity grid in real time to make it more efficient and balance supply and demand. Through this demand response service, Mosaic Power reduces blackouts and pollution. Mosaic Power pays property owners $100 per tank per year for participation. Rather than taking the money themselves, project supporters agreed to have their payments support the Church’s solar project. And by using Mosaic controllers as the funding source, the Church drastically scaled up its climate impact – each Mosaic controller eliminates as much carbon pollution as 6 solar panels.”

Interfaith Power & Light was formed at the beginning of this century. It was established to draw together the religious community and spiritual people to provide a voice of conscience to address the dangers to people and the environment associated with climate change. The national organization began as a single state chapter; it now has not only a national outreach, but also 40 state chapters.WV IPL Logo - 2015

A core group of West Virginia faith community leaders have joined to foster formation of the 41st state IPL chapter, West Virginia Interfaith Power & Light (WVIPL). The Rev. Mel Hoover, a WVIPL steering committee member said, “Global warming is one of the biggest threats facing humanity today. The very existence of life – life that religious people are called to protect – is jeopardized by our continued dependency on fossil fuels for energy. Every major religion has a mandate to care for Creation. We were given natural resources to sustain us, but we were also given the responsibility to act as good stewards and preserve life for future generations. We are very pleased for Shepherdstown Presbyterian Church and thank them for serving as an inspiration for the faith community throughout West Virginia as we work to launch the Mountain State’s IPL chapter.”

He added, “We are excited about forming the nation’s newest IPL chapter. The rapidly growing movement has more than a decade of success in shrinking carbon footprints and educating hundreds of thousands of people in the pews about the important role that we play in addressing the threats to public health and the environment.”

Hoover concluded, “As people of faith, our mission includes being advocates for vulnerable people and communities. It is poor people who are being hit first and worst by environmental degradation. We also aim to make sure that all people can participate in and benefit from the growing clean energy economy.”

In its submission to IPL, Shepherdstown Presbyterian explained the background of how this initiative came to be. “In West Virginia the true costs of cheap energy are impossible to ignore. This year (2014) thousands suffered through the loss of their drinking water due to a coal chemical spill. Communities in the coalfields are being exposed to carcinogenic mine dust. And hundreds of mountains and streams have been devastated. We see this as an environmental and public health emergency.

“Electricity in this state remains highly subsidized, relatively cheap, and predominately generated from coal, providing 95 percent of the state’s power. Although energy prices here are increasing, and the costs for solar are dropping, the distance between these still presents an important barrier for solar. In some states, solar leasing provides a solution to this problem, but that is currently not an option under West Virginia law.”

It continued, “The Shepherdstown Presbyterian Church (SPC) community has long recognized the importance of solar power. When a fellowship hall was added to the church 15 years ago, the planners discussed how the south-facing roof would be an ideal location for solar panels. However, the loan debt from the annex project made it necessary to put the prospect of solar on hold.”

Eventually though, “We helped develop an innovative crowdfunding campaign to solarize the church. This approach did not depend on state or federal incentives programs, nor did it require a loan or capital campaign. Instead, we partnered with Mosaic Power and Solar Holler to harness energy savings from homeowners’ electric water heaters, bundle them together, and use them to finance our solar project.

“Already, the approach we helped pioneer has been adopted by the Harpers Ferry Public Library. We’ve also received requests from other churches in town about how to do this. We believe this approach is powerful not only for its financial design but also because it connects to our core belief that our individual actions can be magnified when in concert with others.

“We set out with three fundamental goals for this project: (1) reduce our greenhouse gas emissions; (2) improve our financial stewardship of SPC; and (3) empower our congregation and the Shepherdstown community to make positive change for clean energy. We believe we have met these goals, and feel blessed to be able to share the good news.”

© Appalachian Preservation Project, LLC, 2015. The Appalachian Chronicle is a publication of the Appalachian Preservation Project. The Appalachian Preservation Project is a social enterprise committed to preserving and protecting Appalachia. If you wish to support our work, please consider becoming a member.

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