Recently, St. David’s Episcopal Church in Austin, TX made major waves after their successful implementation of alternative energy with a solar PV system atop their campus parking garage. This was a major accomplishment not only for St. David’s but also for the city of Austin, paving the way for more commercial alternative energy projects downtown. Cost savings alone was not the primary driver of the solar PV project. It was St. David’s value of energy stewardship principles that are an essential part of their mission and culture.
As the discussion of energy stewardship commences at your church, a few questions will undoubtably surface. In this post, I will answer some of the most common questions I receive about stewardship and alternative energy with respect to churches.
1. What is Energy Stewardship?
Energy Stewardship is essentially a commitment to reducing environmental impact (energy waste and greenhouse gasses) to ensure protection of people and the environment.
The church needs to understand that while its activities are designed to make a positive impact on people, poor energy stewardship has a negative impact on the environment which can counteract those efforts. Beyond seeking cost savings, the church must take responsibility for wasteful activity and its impact on the environment and the surrounding community. The U.S. Department of Energy’s Climate Action Plan calls for “all commercial buildings, including worship facilities, to reduce energy costs and related greenhouse gas emission by 20 percent by 2020.”
2. Why is Energy Stewardship Important?
Energy Star estimates typical commercial building “wastes 30% of the energy it consumes because of inefficiencies. The U.S. Department of Energy estimates that commercial buildings use 20% of the nations energy and that “a typical commercial building could save 20% on its energy bills simply by commissioning existing systems so they operate as intended.
Waste in churches are both behavioral and structural. While many churches are in need of updating structural systems with newer more efficient devices, most struggle to correct behaviors that lead to that 20% of waste such as leaving on lights, computers, and appliances can lead to significant savings. Behavioral changes are things that you can do now to reduce energy waste that are 100% free. For churches, utilities generally make up the second largest church expense (behind salaries) requiring about a third of the church’s operating budget. Imagine what the church could do with the resources recovered from correcting behaviors and repairing/upgrading inefficient systems in each building.
3. What is alternative energy?
The Environmental Protection Agency defines alternative energy (or renewable energy) as “electricity generated by fuel sources that restore themselves over a short period of time and do not diminish.” Sources for alternative energy include solar, wind, geothermal, hydro-electric, waste-to-energy, and more.
4. Why do we need alternative energy?
The majority of energy produced today is created with fossil fuels which are not renewable. The acquisition of and exploitation of fossil fuels produces harmful by-products and negative effects that are damaging to the environment. According to the EPA, in the United States, electricity generation is the largest source of greenhouse gas emissions followed by transportation. Human activity is contributing to accelerated warming in the atmosphere (climate change). The EPA states that while “some renewable energy technologies have an impact on the environment, renewables are considered environmentally preferable to conventional sources and, when replacing fossil fuels, have significant potential to reduce greenhouse gas emissions.”
5. When Should the Church Consider Alternative Energy?
Investment in alternative energy is not a catch all for poor energy stewardship. Before a church considers alternative energy, it should do everything it can to eliminate inefficiencies including wasteful behavior and improperly operating systems within the facility. It just does not make sense to do anything with alternative energy until the facility is running as efficiently as possible. Once you do that, it becomes easier to specify an alternative energy system to complement your ACTUAL energy requirements.
6. Where should we start?
Here are a few tips to help your church take steps towards conceptualizing an energy stewardship plan of action:
- Take a look at my Energy Savings Plan (free download) to get a quick start start on development of your church’s energy stewardship plan.
- Get a thorough energy audit so that you have a baseline of where your church energy usage is. Set an energy savings goal, like reduce energy usage by 25% by 2025.
- Put together a committee or team and involve professional consultants to plan the steps to reaching that goal. Consider energy efficient upgrades and energy management systems to monitor progress. Be mindful of deadlines for federal and local rebates, incentives, and special rates. Then put that plan in action.
- Measure your impact and keep your church on track.
- Once your church has done everything it can to be energy efficient, then consider investing in alternative energy.