Written by Carol Landis, a TIPL member residing in Johnson City.
We all use energy: individuals, households, businesses, and organizations. It can be expensive and may even be a part of our budgets that seems bloated. We also know that managing energy use can enable us to reallocate some of the money currently being spent for utilities to pay for other things.
In February 2013, the Green Interfaith Network, Inc. (GINI) was awarded a grant from the Harris Fund of the East Tennessee Foundation to help five congregations in Washington County reduce their energy use and apply their savings toward other ministries. Through their “Cool Congregations in Washington County” project, GINI members are ready to help congregations identify strategies to conserve energy, thereby enabling them to redirect funds toward other important ministries–a win-win situation!
To be considered, a faith group must apply (information available online). Congregations in Washington County that are selected to participate in the project are guided through a series of steps. Upon completion, the faith group is awarded an incentive of $500 to begin implementing strategies that can reduce their energy and resource use. The recipients of this incentive return $500 to GINI from their savings within the first year so that more congregations can be helped.
Munsey Memorial United Methodist Church of Johnson City and the Wesley Foundation also in Johnson City were the first two applicants to receive this help. On Oct. 9th, a group of Munsey and GINI members was given a tour of the facilities at Munsey UMC in Johnson City. The second energy assessment took place at the Wesley House near ETSU on Monday, Oct. 21st.
In each of these tours, the team of volunteers wrote notes about resource use on a form like the one that Sister Paula Gonzalez (the “solar nun”) developed in Cincinnati in the 1990s. As expected, general considerations on the form (used for assessing resource use) include: the building construction and size (walls, doors, windows, roof/ceilings, & basement); the heating, cooling, & ventilation systems; lighting of all types; and water use. In addition, specific areas related to use of the facility are also considered for potential savings: kitchen and laundry areas, office and technology use, landscaping, outbuildings, and vehicle maintenance.
As the facility is toured, participants indicate areas where recent upgrades and/or cost-saving strategies have been implemented as well as those where changes might still be made. Some no-cost behavioral changes include strategies such as: encouraging turning off lights, closing doors, shutting off pilot lights, adjusting thermostats, etc. Other changes might be low-cost, such as putting a timer on a unit, or using a power strip to turn off a set of appliances or equipment that have an instant-on feature. Still other changes require a more significant investment of time and funds, such as making structural changes or replacing equipment that is inefficient by today’s standards.
The GINI team is not professionally qualified to recommend which strategies to employ, nor provide cost-benefit analyses. The participating congregation must examine current costs and study the research about various options in order to make those value-laden decisions amongst themselves. GINI is pleased to provide procedural support to stimulate action, and offers follow-up communications to help document success as the congregation makes changes.
GINI’s “Cool Congregations” project is underway and we are eager to learn more as we help others, and also to share the results!