This piece is part of the Colorado installment of the “Advocating on the Road” blog series.
In 2009-10 Our Savior’s Lutheran Church of Denver, Colorado, took innovative steps to reduce their greenhouse gas emissions and create jobs for a disadvantaged sector of the local workforce. The church became the first in the city to run on solar electric power, harnessed through solar panels installed by local residents in need of work. To supply labor for the project, the congregation partnered with a local nonprofit organization helping former offenders reintegrate into society by providing jobs, training, placement and support.
“We see this as part of our calling to be stewards of the resources we have been given”, says the Rev. Paul Carlson. “Caring for creation is central to who we are and who we are called to be. It’s the faithful response out of gratitude for the goodness and beauty of creation. At the same time, the congregation is helping people who need work but have a difficult time getting it.”
Made possible in December 2009 through a unique financing arrangement developed by one of the largest solar energy companies in Colorado, the solar installation provides an estimated 60 percent of the congregation’s electricity. The system is owned and operated by a third party, an LLC that receives Xcel Rebates, renewable Energy Credits and all of the available tax benefits. Our Savior’s Lutheran congregation purchases the electricity generated from the LLC at a guaranteed locked-in rate until the congregation exercises their option to purchase the system. At that time they will own the system outright, receiving free energy for the life of the system.
“This is a win-win for everyone,” remarks the Rev. Tina Yankee, member of Our Savior’s Lutheran and 14-year director of a nonprofit assisting those with criminal histories find employment. “The church not only gets its solar electricity, it gets to fulfill its mission to help those who have been in prison and other disadvantaged populations; our energy company gets the revenue from the sale and installation of the solar panels; and the investors get a decent return on their investment while helping to protect the planet.”
According to Pastor Carlson, the congregation hopes that this arrangement can become a model for other congregations interested in greening their operations. In addition to the environmental benefits, with over 2500 religious buildings in Colorado, the value of such investments providing economic stimulation and creating much needed jobs for the unemployed is huge, Pastor Yankee notes.
The Rev. Nelson Bock, a member of the congregation, is also a board member for Colorado Interfaith Power and Light, an organization that works with faith communities to help them be better stewards of creation and that helped facilitate the congregation’s connection with the energy retailer. “Communities of faith can and should be playing a lead role in modeling better energy stewardship and fighting climate change,” says Bock. “It’s part of their spiritual foundation, and they are already organized to do it. It’s just a matter of providing them with the tools they need; that’s what this partnership is all about.”