The Mennonite Creation Care Network has awarded two solar grants from the Pam De Young Net Zero Energy Fund.
Taftsville (Vt.) Chapel Mennonite Fellowship will receive $10,000 and Albuquerque (N.M.) Mennonite Church $5,000 toward rooftop solar arrays.
The congregations are a contrast: One has lovely snow photographs; the other talks of dust storms. One is in a forested rural community where a cluster of small towns has a joint population just over 3,000; the other is in a city of half a million people.
Both have ideal roof space for solar panels and will be able to supply all of their own electricity. Taftsville expects to produce about 12,600 kilowatt hours per year with its 11.66-kilowatt system, and Albuquerque’s system will be about the same size.
The solar arrays will educate and benefit others beyond the worshipers who install them. Albuquerque’s building houses a child-care center, a neighborhood association and 12-step groups who will soon see “100 percent solar” posted by the light switches. The church’s involvement with Transition Cities will provide additional opportunities to share ideas.
Taftsville’s utility company enables solar owners to donate excess power to other customers. The congregation plans to install enough panels to generate twice the energy the building consumes so they can share with other nonprofits. One beneficiary will be Bethany Birches Camp.
“Without the grant from Mennonite Creation Care Network, we would have had to scale back and just cover our own needs,” said Heather Wolfe, the congregation’s creation-care liaison.
Part of a larger plan
MCCN’s grant process requires congregations to evaluate their approach to creation care, from worship to community life to practicing eco-justice in the broader community.
Albuquerque congregants sign a covenant each year that says, “Together we honor God the Creator by challenging one another to live as partners with the creation.” The congregation has a Watershed Discipleship Group and a Zero Waste Committee.
A number of Albuquerque’s projects highlight their Southwestern context. Installing cisterns and drought-tolerant landscaping around the building is one example. Helping to designate Albuquerque a bee-friendly city is another. They hope to hold a pilgrimage to sites within their watershed, such as the headwaters of the Rio Grande and native lands where farmers are practicing centuries-old techniques of sustainable farming.
Creation care emerged as a key theme for Taftsville as they evaluated priorities and observed they were already practicing eco-justice in a number of ways. They bought fair-trade coffee, supported a ministry in Indonesia that traded health care for forest protection and helped local low-income people afford heating.
The congregation designed a creation care plan with a monthly task list. In November they bought LED light bulbs. In January, households complete a carbon footprint calculator.
Making solar affordable
Both churches relied on additional funding beyond the grants they received. Albuquerque created a limited liability company, and members of the church bought shares at $500 each. Shareholders will receive the 30 percent federal tax credit associated with a solar installation in return for becoming a member of the LLC. The money saved on electricity costs will be returned to investors over an eight-year period.
“We would be glad to help others through the process, as others helped us,” said Sue Brown, a member of the LLC. They also drew on the solar expertise of Nick King, pastor of Carlsbad (N.M.) Mennonite Church. He is the proprietor of King Solar.
Taftsville is without a pastor at present, so dollars not needed for a salary were diverted to solar panels.
Russell De Young of Newport News, Va., began the Pam De Young Net Zero Energy Fund this year. It is named in honor of his late wife, who loved the outdoors and cared gently for all around her.
Congregations interested in applying for a grant in 2017 can submit proposals between Aug. 1 and Oct. 31. Information is available at mennocreationcare.org/net-zero-energy-grants.