Vermont Interfaith Power and Light

A faith-based response to global climate change

Senator Sanders Flips Switch On Church's New Solar Array

The Orleans County Record (Weekend Edition, July 20 & 21, 2013) BY JENNIFER HERSEY CLEVELAND Staff Writer DERBY LINE- The First Universalist Unitarian Parish couldn't have asked for a better day to flip the switch on their new 10,000-watt solar array.

Friday fell in the midst of a heat wave sweeping most of the nation, which provided a good opportunity to draw attention to global warming and climate change as well.

The parishioners are not only creating power, visiting dignitary U.S. Sen. Bernie Sanders said. "You are a model for what other buildings can be doing."

"We are doing God's work," Sanders said. "We are responsible for the environment and creating a planet we want to leave to our children and grandchildren."

"What I like about living in Vermont is that my representative actually represents me," parishioner and contributor Judy Nornmik said. The project had two goals, Nommik said - to create power and to encourage other people to think this is something they could do as well.

If 40 church members can accomplish this, what could select or school boards do, she asked.

Dr. Ben Luce thanked Sanders for helping Lyndon State College build the first solar program in Vermont. He said the sun is the earth's biggest energy resource and could provide for the entire energy demands of the nation if tapped.

The country needs to produce thousands of gigawatts of power in the next couple decades, he said. "We will fail to protect the environment if we don't get this going."

The country needs to manage demand and find storage capacity for solar energy, Luce said. "There's not any time left for excuses."

Sanders said in a few months, a utility-scale "concentrated solar" project, which uses mirrors, will go online in California. It is expected to power nearly 200,000 homes. "The potential is extraordinary," Sanders said. "We can lead America."

Betsy Hardy, the coordinator of Vermont Interfaith Power and Light, said the Derby Line congregation is an inspiration. She said the solar array is only one of four in a Vermont faith community and the only one in a Northeast Kingdom church.

Hardy's group addresses global warming through offering things free energy assessments to any church in the state. "We believe it is a moral issue," she said.

Nik Ponzio, whose company Building Energy installed the array, said it was an honor to work with the church. He said he's proud the project is owned by a church and not "some nameless out of state corporation."

Just before a grand ribbon cutting, Adrien Helm read an excerpt of an Annie Dillard work called "Pilgrim at Tinker Creek," in which the author speaks about how a simple molecule difference can change a drop of chlorophyll into blood.

"So go hug a tree. It's family."

The project's net cost, after a Vermont incentive, was $23,966. Thirteen families purchased 23 panels, and the church bought the remaining 17 panels. The cost per panel, minus a federal tax credit, was $546. The church sold stock to fund it, finding that their energy savings would be greater than the revenue stock, resulting in zero added financial burden on the church, according to a poster in the fellowship hall.

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