Churches Join the Climate Change Movement

Posted December 15, 2016

In his encyclical Laudato Sí, Pope Francis called on all humanity to “care for our common home.” He made it clear that climate change is both human-caused and a real threat to all of Earth’s citizens, especially the poor. “Each community can take from the bounty of the earth whatever it needs for subsistence,” he wrote, “but it also has the duty to protect the earth and to ensure its fruitfulness for coming generations.”

Like Pope Francis, Greenpower believes strongly that taking a stand against climate change is our social and spiritual imperative. One way we’re carrying out this imperative is by helping communities transition from greenhouse gas-emitting energy sources—like coal and oil—to locally produced green energy from renewable sources like solar, wind, and biomass. And where better to start this transition than in our communities’ churches and schools?

The Green Churches Campaign

In 2016, Greenpower began partnering with large, established organizations like churches and schools to help them reduce their energy usage and implement planet-friendly power.

For our inaugural campaign, Greenpower joined with the Catholic Diocese of Monterey, (spanning Santa Cruz, San Benito, Monterey, and San Luis Obispo Counties) to bring solar and energy efficiency to the 44 parishes and 18 schools in the Diocese. This campaign has the potential to bring together 250,000 people (the number of Catholics in the Monterey Bay area) in the fight against climate change. With Greenpower’s support, this large community could  remove more than one million pounds of CO2 from the church’s annual emissions.

"If the entire Catholic Diocese of Monterey participates in the Green Churches Campaign, we can eliminate more than one million pounds of CO2 emissions annually. "

These projects will not only reduce greenhouse gas emissions but also save tens of thousands of dollars for the churches and schools. Churches can use the energy bill savings to help their communities by funding new or existing ministries like food pantries, mental health counseling, and housing programs. Schools will have the opportunity to provide higher quality education to their students, as well as to use the presence of solar and energy efficient technologies to stimulate interest in renewable energy and science.

Leaders at all levels of the Monterey Catholic Diocese recognize the environmental and economic benefits of these projects and is excited to enact their new climate change initiative.

“We’re very happy to be working with Greenpower in the local fight against the global issue of climate change,” said Deacon Warren Hoy, director of social justice ministries.  “Pope Francis calls us to take action wherever and however we can to protect our common home, Planet Earth, and together we’re raising up a common voice for change in our communities.”

One of the first of these churches ready to meet the Pope’s call was St. Michael’s Church in Boulder Creek.

Solar installation on St. Michael's roof in Boulder Creek, CA

A small church saves money and the environment with solar

In July of this year, Greenpower reached out to Father Robert Murrin, or “Fr. Bob,” of St. Michael’s Church in Boulder Creek, CA to discuss bringing solar and energy efficiency to his church. Fr. Bob didn’t hesitate to jump on board. A long-standing solar advocate, Fr. Bob has been trying to install solar in his parish for the last decade. Solar installation is expensive, however, and St. Michael’s small size and the lack of federal solar tax incentives for religious organizations, made the cost an obstacle too large to for the church to overcome on its own. Fortunately, Fr. Bob now had a team of experts and advocates on his side.

"Our parish is excited to be among the first churches to work with Greenpower. With their support, we’re contributing to the Church’s world-wide climate action goals, and reducing our energy costs —a huge financial benefit for our small parish. " Father Robert Murrin

Greenpower’s solar and energy efficiency partner, Mynt Systems, specializes in working with small-to-medium-sized organizations. Additionally, the Catholic Diocese of Monterey offered each one of its churches and schools the opportunity to finance the entire project with low interest rate loans. This was the opportunity Fr. Bob had been waiting for, and he leaped at the chance to finally bring solar to his church.

Based on a comprehensive energy audit in September, Greenpower and Mynt put together a project proposal for St. Michael’s. It showed they could reduce their electric bill from nearly $4,000 a year to just over $100 a year (more than 95% in savings) with a solar and energy efficiency retrofit costing less than $40,000.

In early November, 15 solar panels were installed on St. Michael’s roof, with the lighting retrofit scheduled for later in the month. Using the financing of the Diocese savings and loan program, this project will allow Fr. Bob’s parish to come out ahead $400 in the first year and achieve significant savings over the next 25 years. The energy efficiency audit and retrofit will reduce the church’s energy usage by 8,128 kWh per year - a greenhouse gas emission reduction equivalent to the planting of nearly 1,500 trees.

"The partnership between the Diocese and Greenpower is a tremendous gift to Catholics throughout the Monterey Bay area,” Father Bob said. “And the impact of our actions is a gift to the planet - one which we are happy to give.”

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