By Guest Columnist ALEXIS CHASE, executive director, Georgia Interfaith Power & Light.
Energy efficiency and Georgia’s faith community have not always been friends. Most congregations tend to think short-term, rarely considering long-term sustainability when renovating old structures or building new ones; their eyes are fixed on cost and speed.
Fortunately, that’s changing, thanks to an innovative statewide program recently launched by Georgia Interfaith Power & Light (GIPL). It’s called Power Wise.
We received $400,000 in federal stimulus money enhanced by $200,000 from a private foundation to help Georgia’s faith communities of every religion, embrace energy efficiency. No other organization in the country is offering congregations of every faith a detailed road map like this to systematically reduce their energy use.
Demand has been phenomenal and unprecedented. Congregations from Savannah to Athens and Augusta to Macon are signing up to receive Power Wise energy audits. As GIPL co-founder Revered Woody Bartlett puts it, “God gave us natural resources as caretakers, not exploiters, but caretakers,” referring to a growing creation care movement spreading among Georgia’s clergy.
Atlanta’s North Springs United Methodist Church received the first Power Wise energy audit, and last week, the Unitarian Universalist Congregation of Savannah (UUCS) was audited. Both congregations will remain in the program three years, as we carefully track their energy savings over time. Like so many church buildings in Georgia, UUCS is a beautiful structure visually, yet because of its age, has serious energy problems. Built in the 1840’s on Troup Square, we found leaky windows, an outdated inefficient HVAC system and issues with their insulation.
With Power Wise funding to back us up, GIPL auditors can identify these energy issues as well as provide solutions and help pay for them. GIPL is close to reaching our goal of enlisting 125 Power Wise congregations in the initial two years including our first Ashram.
Ultimately, we want to reach every one of Georgia’s 15,000 houses of worship and leverage their cultural influence. When their square footage is combined, it’s greater than the footprints of Georgia’s schools or hotels, a truly untapped resource for energy efficiency potential. Every congregation we have ever worked with is spending too much on power and light.
In our first round, grants for more than $40,000 were approved going directly to eight congregations that can now afford to make improvements and begin to embrace energy efficiency. The grant money will upgrade fluorescent tubes from T-12s to T-5s, install an entire LED lighting system and provide an HVAC upgrade to name a few of the energy saving measures soon coming on line.
Money previously wasted on power and gas bills can now be redirected to feed the hungry, house the homeless and advance each congregation’s mission. The next round of grants will be awarded in November and can be as high as $25,000 per congregation, based on need and strategy.
Along with encouraging faith communities to embrace energy efficiency, GIPL also helps them take full advantage of renewable energy.
“This is God’s energy straight from the source,” says Bartlett, a member of Holy Trinity Episcopal Church. He’s speaking of the church’s solar panels collecting clean, free energy. Decatur’s Holy Trinity Episcopal Church and Druid Hills United Methodist Church in Atlanta are the first in Georgia to benefit from GIPL’s solar loan fund – another excellent resource providing congregations ten-year, zero interest revolving loans when they install solar photo-voltaics.
The national Interfaith Power & Light network began in California and has grown to 38 state affiliates. Georgia Interfaith Power & Light was formed in 2003. As a nonsectarian, statewide nonprofit, we will continue to engage communities of faith in stewardship of God’s creation as a direct reflection of our faithfulness through worship, education and the sustainable generation and use of energy.
If your congregation can benefit from an energy audit and Power Wise funding, please call us at 404-588-9978 or register at www.gipl.org. We believe we are paving the way for other meaningful energy efficient partnerships and are grateful to have these talented partners on board – the Georgia Environmental Finance Authority, MarionEco, CDH Partners and Kruger Sustainability Group.
In addition of serving as executive director of Georgia Interfaith Power & Light, Alexis Chase earned a Master of Divinity from San Francisco Theological Seminary.