By Fred Koenig, Special Contributor…
SEDALIA, Mo.—When God’s heavenly light shines down on Wesley UMC in Sedalia, the church experiences more power than any other house of worship around.
It’s not that the sun shines brighter on Wesley, it is just that they make better use of it. The far side of Wesley’s parking lot is lined with a new array of solar panels, 10 kilowatts’ worth.
The inspiration for going solar came from lay leader Lynn Schafer. He’s easy to spot around Sedalia: He’s the guy driving the red 2000 Honda Insight. You might recall Insight was the first hybrid on the highway. The tiny two-seater’s gas mileage is rated at 49 city/61 highway, unmatched by any hybrid for sale today, including Mr. Schafer’s newer Toyota Prius. Considering that his Insight now has 120,000 miles on it, he’s saved roughly 3,750 gallons of gas that would have been used had he been driving a car that gets 20 miles per gallon.
Which brings us to Mr. Schafer’s primary motivation: He’s concerned about us (the Earth) running out of fossil fuel.
“We’ve got about 50 years’ worth left,” he said. “That means when my granddaughter is 58, we’re going to be out.”
That’s why Mr. Schafer drives hybrids, and it’s why he had a 5kW solar-power system installed at his home two years ago.
He also sees environmental stewardship as a perfect fit for the denomination’s Rethink Church movement. Not only will the congregation at Wesley UMC come closer to living up to the standards stated in the United Methodist Social Principles but, by showing that they care about issues outside the church walls, Mr. Schafer believes they could open a door for newcomers—particularly young people.
It’s a message that’s easy to share. Even before the system was in place, the church’s solar project was featured twice in the local newspaper.
“I’ve had a lot of questions about it from people in the community,” said the Rev. Rick Adams, pastor at Wesley UMC.
Plenty of support
Although Mr. Schafer is the guy who gets dubbed “the environmental evangelist” in the church, he was impressed with the support the solar project received from the rest of the congregation.
“People gave more than they could afford to make this happen,” he said.
Like most United Methodist churches, there is a diversity of perspectives at Wesley UMC. Some think global warming is a hoax, and that there are plenty of untapped fossil fuels underground to support consumption until the time that something else brings the world to a halt. But people in this camp didn’t raise a protest against the solar panels; they supported the installation.
“Over the course of time this will save the church money, and regardless of the environmental necessity, people like saving money,” said Mr. Adams. “We received money from people who I didn’t expect to give at all toward this. Some people gave to this who don’t even regularly give to the church.”
Part of that came from persistence on Mr. Schafer’s part. He sent everyone in the congregation a letter requesting contributions for the project, and he followed it up with a phone call.
“Sometimes people would ask me if one of their friends was supporting [the solar panels], and when I told them yes, they gave a contribution as well,” Mr. Adams said.
After Mr. Schafer had the solar system installed in his home a couple of years ago, his home was featured in the local paper. That led to more contracts for the installer, Cromwell Environmental. For that they were grateful, so Mr. Schafer called in a favor.
He asked Cromwell to bid on the church project at cost, enough to cover their expenses without profiting from the endeavor as a company. They agreed to it, and their bid came in thousands of dollars below their competitors.
The total cost of the system was about $51,000. Any other business or individual would receive a tax credit. Since the church isn’t a taxable entity this doesn’t apply, but they do get a tax rebate which substantially reduces their energy bill.
And Mr. Schafer estimates that in the spring and fall, when the church isn’t using heat or air conditioning, the solar panels will produce more electricity than the church is using and they will sell energy back to the utility company.
The church is equipped with a meter that monitors how much electricity is being generated. At Mr. Schafer’s request that information is being transmitted via a Bluetooth connection to a screen set up in the church library.
“I wanted people to be able to see what their donations are doing,” he said.
The solar panels became operational in early August. As Mr. Schafer considers the project, he’s pleased with the cost savings and statement the panels make about caring for the environment. But he is most pleased with the result: Over the course of the next 30 years, using the solar panels at the church should replace the consumption of 150,000 pounds of coal.
For more information about Wesley UMC’s solar power project, e-mail firstname.lastname@example.org.
Mr. Koenig is editor of the Missouri Conference Review, where this story first appeared.