October Movement Café:

Solar

October 18th 2023

10am PT / 11am MT / 12pm CT / 1pm ET

Sponsored by the United Methodist Creation Justice Movement, the informal, virtual space of the Café facilitates conversation, connection, and community focused on creation care and justice issues.

Solar

Couldn’t make it? Here’s what happened.

The October Movement Cafe delved into solar energy, providing information and resources to help facilitate a feasible process for faith institutions to follow in their efforts to transition to clean energy. 

 Reverend Richenda Fairhurst opened the Cafe with a reminder that going solar is a valuable way for UM conferences, districts and churches to make an even bigger difference in the  creation care arena.  The speakers shared a variety of perspectives and information on how to navigate the intersection between our faith institutions and the benefits of solar energy.

Rev. John Pitney is a member of the Oregon-Idaho Conference where he co-leads the Interfaith Solar Campaign.  He talked about the importance of developing partnerships in this work and sharing resources in order to smoothen the transition to solar, and he has worked to accomplish this goal in his work with faith institutions.  His group has partnered with Collective Sun and worked with United Methodists at the conference and district levels, built fundraising sources, and using this strategy to help over 40 churches of various faiths install solar at their facilities.

Lou Stagnito is a retired organizational consultant who is the volunteer Director of the Interfaith Solar Campaign.  He noted that faith communities can take a tangible step in fighting climate change that  will not only reduce carbon emissions one building at a time, but will also inspire communities to do the same.  So, building a movement of houses of worship in this effort is their goal, so collectively there will be more of an impact.

Nicole Winthrow is Director of Sales at Collective Sun.  She has over 25 years of experience in sales management, contract fulfillment and project administration.   Collective Sun is a solar company dedicated to supporting nonprofits and faith communities and have partnered with over 200 nonprofits.   Over 50% of those have been faith communities.  

Ms. Winthrow went through a checklist of how to get started and accomplish the goal of establishing solar.  Her presentation can be found here and below is an overview of the checklist:

  1. Identify a solar team or committee to work together, who first focus on logistics and potential locations for a solar array.  
  2. Gather a year of electric bills. 
  3. Evaluate funding options.  Purchasing a system directly requires that the solar team be organized and have the bandwidth to manage the solar system. The other option is to  have third party ownership where many responsibilities will lie with someone else.  
  4. With the third party ownership option, it is important to check with your local utility website and confirm that they do allow leases or public purchase agreements (PPAs).  (This decision is based on the internal culture and needs of your church.  Purchasing the system requires hiring a reputable solar installer for which it is best to check with your local utility company to see if they have a restricted list.   It is also recommended to perform due diligence and look at reviews.  Three bids is standard procedure.
  5. Identify resources and resource sources.  Resources and resource partners are important. Here is a list of resources and she noted that Interfaith Power and Light have resources as well.

She also discussed savings generated from going solar.   Solar savings is impacted by what you pay your utility company for energy and the cost of your solar installer.    Saving varies from state to state depending on the solar market, costs of installation, etc. Understanding what your local market bears is important in making those decisions.

She also noted that with passage of the Inflation Reduction Act, churches may be eligible for direct pay under the 30% tax rebate for the installation of a solar system.   In addition, there are bonuses available as well.  It is important to note that the funds raised that are earmarked for the solar system in addition to the tax credit cannot exceed the cost of the solar system.

Funding ideas include cash reserves, grant funds, donations, solar loans and leases.   She noted that churches that feel comfortable with their ability to self fund and run their solar systems, should be mindful that it is important to have partners and to expect some obstacles, but it is definitely feasible.  If there is not a comfort level, solar leases may be a better choice.

A third party partnership would own and maintain the equipment and the tax filings.  With a lease, the congregation owns the energy generated, while with a PPA, the third party owns the energy.

David O. Cox is a registered civil engineer who is best known in solar circles for his work with the Open Door project which helped put five solar systems on churches in Salem, Oregon.  The project was initiated in a Sunday School class which wanted to do more to combat climate change and all five churches decided to put solar panels on buildings.   They were concerned about possible structural issues, but they worked with partners to overcome those obstacles as well as funding concerns, but they received over $225,000 in grants for their $400,000 project.   Sharing the realization that they could  replace 80% of their power with solar, helped with donations.  Although it was not meant as  a revenue generator,, it will save the five Open Door churches collectively $25,000 a year.  Additionally, at least a dozen people from their congregations are planning to put solar on their homes.     He reminded us that churches are an under- resourced asset in the battle against climate change.

Tim Overton-Harris is the District Superintendent of the Columbia District of the Oregon-Idaho Annual Conference of the United Methodist Church.  He shared that a group of caring environmentalist folks helped get the conference to join the interfaith solar campaign in Oregon. He worked with JonPitney and Lou Stagnito in their effort to target local churches, as they surveyed churches and looked at who would be best for solar and then worked with congregations to help understand the viability of those solar options at a local level.  He noted that their Conference wants to emphasize underserved communities and entourage the  focus of  this project to be on those communities.   He emphasized the importance of partnerships with the conference and in building funding sources.   In their Conference, they have Extension societies, who provide funding,  to support their efforts.   They also worked to include rural and urban churches as well as churches of color.

Cara Fleischer, the Creation Care Task Team leader for the Florida Conference and the District Assistant to the DS in North Florida where she has started a solar interest group to help churches reach their energy independence goals.  She emphasized the importance of educating churches and about the financial benefits of switching to solar energy.  With the financial support of partners, such as the Florida  United Methodist Foundation and Climate Bank, they now have six churches ready to go.  

Mel Caraway,  is a retired clergy member of the North Texas Conference of the United Methodist ChurchHe reminded everyone that creation justice work, including solar, is rooted in our faith as Christians, and noted the intersection of faith and this work as stewards of the earth.  He emphasized the importance of getting your bishop on board and working with conference leaders as their support is valuable in being effective.    He also recommended working outside of the United Methodist Church and expanding the education and the work to an interfaith community.   In Texas, they have created a Solar Coop which is composed of partners of various denominations.    

The Cafe wrapped up with breakout rooms on the various topics discussed.

Speaker

Nicole Withrow

is the Director of Sales at CollectiveSun®, LLC. She has over 25 years of experience in sales management, contract administration and project fulfillment.

As the Director of Sales at CollectiveSun, Nicole Withrow exemplifies a genuine trailblazer in the clean energy sector. With an unwavering commitment to sustainability and a deep understanding of the solar industry, Nicole is a driving force in helping nonprofit organizations and communities achieve their clean energy goals.

She believes passionately that: “We do not inherit the Earth from our ancestors – we borrow it from our children.”

Speaker

Lou Stagnitto

is a retired organizational development consultant who is in the “give back” stage of life. As the volunteer Director of the Interfaith Solar Campaign, Lou brings expertise in  change management to efforts to build a new energy economy. He is driven by passion and the belief that working together we can significantly impact the fight around climate change.

Speaker

Rev. John Pitney

is a husband, father and grandfather to 5-year-old Jackson. He is a member of the Oregon-Idaho Conference, co-leads the Interfaith Solar Campaign and is on the Creation Justice team for Oregon Interfaith Power and Light.  He believes in the power of congregations to make a difference!

Speaker

Lee Barken

CPA, LEED-AP is the Chief Community Officer at CollectiveSun®, LLC. He has broad industry experience in renewable energy project finance, environmental commodities consulting and public policy analysis.

He is dedicated to helping nonprofits and mission driven organizations develop economically viable energy projects. Lee writes and speaks on the topics of renewable energy project finance, social entrepreneurship, and community financing.

Lee plays an active role on the board of directors of Cleantech San Diego and the Impact Investment committee at San Diego Grantmakers. Lee received a Bachelor of Science degree in accounting from San Diego State University where he graduated with honors and academic distinction.

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