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Earth Stewardship Leads to Solar Project

By Lisa Therrell

One year ago a small group from Faith Lutheran Church in Leavenworth, Wash., met around a kitchen table. They had just read EcoMind: Changing the Way We Think, To Create the World We Want (Nation Books, 2013) by Frances Moore Lappé. The book’s premise is that too many people are immobilized by despair at the specter of climate change so we need to change the way we think in order to take small, deliberate actions that will make a difference.

“We very much wanted to do something where we could make a real difference with climate change by reducing carbon emissions,” said MaryCarol Nelson, a member of Faith’s Earth Stewardship Group and one of the project organizers of the Icicle River Middle School community solar project. One group member, Barbara Rossing, who is a professor at the Lutheran School of Theology at Chicago, suggested taking on a solar project in the community.

“Solar panels are a visible sign of the church’s commitment to a vision of hope for the future of the world. We are making a small, but important, step to help our economy transition away from fossil fuel-dependence, a vital energy shift reflecting our love for God’s people and all creation,” said Rossing, who also has a solar installation at her home.

One year later the group has cause to celebrate. They orchestrated the first community solar project in Chelan County, with the expert assistance of consultant Ellen Lamiman of Energy Solutions. Faith partnered with the Cascade School District to install solar panels on Icicle River Middle School.

Under Washington’s Renewable Energy Cost Recovery Incentive Payment Program, a solar project can be designed to allow a community to jointly donate and invest in a solar installation on a public property. A nonprofit, in this case Faith, can be the project administrator. The investors receive an annual payment based on energy produced up through June 2020, which allows them to recover their investment. The school district receives SNAP (Sustainable Natural Alternative Power) payments from the Chelan County Public Utility District, which purchases the electricity produced by the system from the Cascade School District.

An integral part of Faith’s mission

Some people questioned why a church would see a solar installation as a part of ministry. Creation care has been an integral part of Faith’s mission statement: “To Incarnate the gracious, healing, and reconciling presence of God through: Sacramental Worship, Congregational Nurture, and Ministries of Peace, Mercy, and Justice for all Creation.”

Nelson agrees that this fits with Faith’s mission and with her beliefs. “I believe God has given us all the right gifts to live on and enjoy this precious earth, and that he never expected us to use destruction in any form to get the things we need,” she said. “To see the solar modules being put up on our middle school roof, I am crazy with the happy thought that yes, we did the right thing.”

According to the Environmental Protection Agency, electrical power production in the U.S., at 32 percent, is the largest producer of greenhouse gas emissions. While there is clean hydropower in Chelan County, more than 70 percent of the electricity in the power grid in the U.S. is from coal or natural gas. Washington has one coal-fired plant near Centralia. Contributing clean renewable energy into the regional grid helps reduce dependence on carbon emitting fuels.

“We wanted to demonstrate that the Leavenworth community cares about sustainability,” Nelson said. “We would like to see more community solar projects initiated, but for the program to be viable we need the state legislature to extend the cost recovery program to allow for a 10-year rolling window. Meanwhile, the project proponents are pleased with our collective results.” 

Faith Lutheran Church in Leavenworth, Wash., partnered with Cascade School District to place solar panels on Icicle River Middle School.

Author bio: Therrell is co-organizer for the Icicle River Middle School community solar project and a member at Faith Lutheran Church, Leavenworth, Wash.

Reproduced with permission from the Eastern Washington-Ohio Synod News in The Lutheran, January 2015. (A PDF of the original article can be downloaded at the bottom of this page.)

Peter Bakken,
Mar 18, 2015, 10:42 AM