“This is a form of evangelism,” says Richard Fowler, when asked about his support for renewable energy. He is a member at First United Methodist Church in Ferndale, and has helped their solar energy program along through some rough patches.
Growing up during the Depression, Bob was accustomed to saving money, and being able to generate his own energy has been a lifelong interest. After installing solar panels on his own home, he connected with a fellow congregant who had experience installing solar water heaters. They both started floating proposals for solar panels to First United Methodist, a congregation that Richard has called home his whole life. He says that the hardest part about adopting solar may be getting over the mental barrier. Members of the congregation were knowledgeable enough about green living and climate change, and were willing to do something about it so long as it wouldn’t be too much trouble or cost. The job for Richard and his colleague was to ensure people that this really could be done.
Their proposals to the church were often met with comments resembling, “It’s a nice idea, but it’s too expensive.” Then they heard about Michigan IPL’s program through Congregational Church of Birmingham. This gave First United Methodist Church the boost they needed. Still, it wasn’t all smooth sailing. The process was supposed to take around two months, but it ended up taking more than a year. Delays with the municipal building department and inspector approval left Richard and the church feeling a bit defeated, but they stuck with it.
The church now sports 64 solar panels, which provide about 1/4 of their electrical needs per year. The church was originally leasing the panels at payments equal to what they would otherwise pay to DTE, while funding for the project was aided by a down payment of 20% by an anonymous donor in their congregation, and an investor introduced through Srinergy. They have since switched from their leasing program to a power purchase agreement, where they pay a fixed amount per kWh to the investor.
First United Methodist’s story makes it clear that a good first step to introducing green practices in your congregation may be connecting with neighboring houses of worship doing inspiring work. Richard’s advice: “Stick with it! This is the way of the future. Let’s hope our difficulties can help smooth the way for those who follow.”