People’s Church of Kalamazoo, Michigan, a Unitarian Universalist Society, has set a goal for themselves to reach zero carbon by 2030, taking incremental steps. They have already reduced their emissions by 20% after only 3 years of effort using volunteer labor.
“The People’s Church, as a Unitarian Universalist Congregation, affirms and promotes respect for the interdependent web of all existence of which we are a part. We know, especially in this time of global pandemic, how closely linked each of us are with the world around us. We are dependent on the world and the world depends on us. This idea can be vague and abstract. The members of The People’s Church Green Sanctuary committee are making our values real in the world through their vision of a carbon-neutral church building, pursuit of the installation of solar panels with no upfront costs to the church, the sweat and hard work of installing insulation in many church room, and networking with our wider community to learn from others and share our successes. They are doing good, important, and hard work and leading our whole congregation into better alignment with the principles we hold dear and the truths we are re-learning every day in this challenging time.” Rev. Rachel Lonberg, Minister of People’s Church.
In 2017 People’s Church of Kalamazoo, a Unitarian Universalist Society, had an energy audit conducted by our local utility, Consumers Energy, in response to growing concerns about climate change from our Green Sanctuary Committee (GSC). The first step suggested by the audit was to replace existing incandescent lighting with LED bulbs and fixtures, and this was begun in 2018 by the Buildings and Grounds committee (B&G).
In early 2019 the GSC created a “Net Zero Task Force” (NZTF) to develop a plan to achieve zero carbon emissions from our facilities by 2030. The NZTF includes Tom Hackley and Gary Heckman as project coordinators, Cybelle Shattuck (Hope for Creation liaison), Allan Hunt (Finance Committee liaison), and Gary Leadley (Building & Grounds liaison). Work is proceeding with assistance from members of the Building & Grounds Committee, including Bob Davis, Greg Feldmeier, Steve Ferguson, Bob Freidel, Rick Johnson, and Roger Loeffler, coordinated by Catherine Neissink.
The stated goal of the project is to achieve zero carbon emissions by 2030. The NZTF realized that our biggest challenge was to accomplish the goal within budget constraints, We therefore decided to approach the project using several guidelines: to have a staged plan to spread the costs over the full time span (see image below); to leverage our assets as much as possible with grants and volunteer labor; to time major capital expenditures with expected maintenance and replacement schedules; and, to begin with the biggest payback items in order to achieve savings for the church at the very beginning of the project.
The project is multi-faceted including:
- Identifying and correcting energy wasting components of the building Improving the efficiency of our current mechanical systems
- Improving the energy conservation properties of the building envelope
- Adding solar photovoltaic panels and electric vehicle charging stations
- Transitioning to an all-electric building
Our process has been facilitated through our affiliations with Hope for Creation, the Interfaith Power & Light regional network of SouthEast Michigan, Westminster Presbyterian Church – both groups offered guidance on solar panels. The Kalamazoo Climate Crisis Coalition, the Kalamazoo Electric Vehicle Association, Temple B’Nai Israel, and Consumers Energy offered information and assistance with our 2 electric vehicle charging stations.
To date we have:
- Converted to LED lighting (2018)
- Insulated the water distribution pipes and replaced the distribution pumps of the boiler system
- Identified several energy leaks and corrected them (2019)
- Installed a 20 kW solar photovoltaic system (2020)
- Installed 2 EV charging stations (2021)
- Insulated the walls of 5 out of 14 offices and classrooms (2021)
During the first year that the solar panels were generating electricity, we generated over 22,000 Kwh . Our consumption for the same period (June, 2020 through May, 2021) was roughly equal to what we generated, but much lower than normal due to COVID.
Our photovoltaic system is being purchased under a contract with the vendor that is much like a car lease. The vendor receives all tax credits and we pay the vendor for the electricity we use from the panels at a rate below retail. After 5 years we have the option to purchase the system at its depreciated value.
We have prevented 27.6 Metric tons of carbon dioxide entering the atmosphere, comparing 2018 actual data, and 2021 actual solar electric production and estimated utility consumption as if we were in full operation.
Growing concern about Climate Change was the immediate motivator, though our congregation has been actively working on environmental issues through the Green Sanctuary Committee for several years. Reducing to zero is everyone’s responsibility. As a congregation we are very concerned about the “web of life” and how we can do our part in preserving the well-being of our planet for future generations. We are also hoping that by making changes to our church’s infrastructure, our congregation, seeing how small changes can make a difference, will make changes in their individual lives.
Since this is an on-going project, we don’t really have final results. To date, we are getting about 40% of our electricity from our 66 solar panels, and we are reducing heat loss through our newly insulated walls and hot water pipes (which should currently reduce our gas usage by about 10% and eventually by closer to 20%). We have also reduced our electrical consumption by switching to motion detector LED lights and higher efficiency circulating pumps. All of this work has been done by our volunteers.
Within the congregation there are really two inspiring things with this project. The first is the amount of work our volunteers are willing to give the Church to accomplish a goal that we all see as essential. And second, we hope to inspire our individual members to realize how through relatively simple, usually inexpensive changes, they can make a difference in their own emissions.
In addition, reaching out to the larger community, we hope to provide an example to other congregations, organizations, and businesses, to undertake their own climate mitigation projects. To this end we have made presentations to Hope for Creation and the Fridays for Future program of the Kalamazoo Climate Crisis Coalition, both of which are available on YouTube.
For more information contact Tom Hackley, hackleyt at comcast.net