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Pastor, Advent Lutheran Church
Commercial User, Madison, Wisconsin
Many electric utilities today charge their customers extra for power during peak demand periods—typically in the afternoon when air-conditioners are working their hardest. Solar energy has the benefit of generally producing the most power during this time. As a result, solar energy can reduce the need to use this higher cost power, and more quickly payback a system’s initial cost of investment.
When Jeff Wild became pastor of the Advent Lutheran Church in Madison in 2000, he quickly embraced and encouraged his new congregation’s green leanings. “I noticed immediately after becoming a pastor here,” he said, “that the concern for creation and concern for the environment among members was a very important part of this congregation’s mission.”
Before Wild began his tenure, for example, members had worked to restore the native prairie grasses on the church’s seven acres. To further foster church members’ concern for our planet, Wild formed a task force to explore other ways the congregation could reduce its ecological footprint.
First on the task force’s agenda was cutting the building’s energy consumption. The group replaced inefficient light fixtures and appliances with energy-sipping models. It reviewed the congregation’s habits and encouraged fellow parishioners to turn off lights when not in use. Wild, 54, said implementing those simple changes reduced energy consumption considerably at the Madison Christian Community building, which houses the congregation Wild serves and its partner church, the Community of Hope United Church of Christ.
Next, the task force investigated obtaining the church’s remaining energy needs from a renewable source. The church’s blustery location made wind turbines a tempting choice, but it turned to solar after discovering the wind didn’t blow hard enough to produce electricity.
What the church lacked in wind resources it found in solar power. “It just so happened that our building was situated in a perfect location,” said Wild. “It was oriented toward the sun and the roof was at a perfect angle for photovoltaic units. “
So, in 2002, the 450-member Madison Christian Community placed a 2.4 kilowatt solar panel on its roof. A $15,000 grant from Focus on Energy, a state-funded organization that backs Wisconsin residents who want to install small-scale renewable energy projects, helped make it possible.
Wild says the panels were “amazingly simple” to install over the course of a couple of days. The panels, combined with the church’s efficiency upgrades and members’ reformed energy habits, have reduced the building’s energy use by 40 percent. According to Wild, the energy savings have cut 22,000 pounds of annual carbon dioxide emissions, the primary cause of global warming, from the church’s environmental footprint.
The panels have given the church the added bonus of reducing its most expensive electricity during peak energy times of the day. “Where the PV unit has really helped us,” says Wild, “is by taking the edge off our peak energy demand charge.”
The panels have required no maintenance in the six years since the congregation installed them. “It’s amazing how maintenance-free it has been,” said Wild. “The only time we really weren’t generating electricity was last winter. We had so much snow that [the roof] was under a foot of snow for weeks at a time.” Even then, once the snow melted, the panels started working again.
The panels raised the church’s profile in the community, but Wild pointed out that it is known for “so many other things,” including its award-winning community garden, which also is energy-efficient. The tractor the church uses in the garden, for example, runs on vegetable oil.
Wild says the Madison Community Church’s environmental improvements are grounded in theology. He and church member Peter Bakken co-authored a book, which will be available next year, which presents their environmental theology. “Our book,” Wild said, “is about how caring for creation and having a sense of place can be the foundation of a congregation’s mission in the community and the world.”