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January 6, 2013

Congregations work to reduce energy usage

TERRE HAUTE — A community of believers hopes to shine light on the possibilities available through solar energy.

Six Hoosier congregations will be installing solar panels this year as part of efforts to reduce energy usage, and the message they share is one based on inclusion. Workshops detailing the project will be hosted throughout the state, including one at St. Mary-of-the-Woods’ White Violet Center some time in 2014.

Madeline Hirschland, vice-chairwoman of the Hoosier Interfaith Power and Light group, said the project was made possible through grant funding, and they welcome other congregations to become engaged.

“They don’t need to make that big a commitment,” she said, explaining options for energy consumption in churches are as varied as the churches themselves.

The $150,000 grant was awarded the group by the Indiana Office of Energy Development, with goals to reduce energy consumption between 25 and 40 percent through usage of solar panels. The six houses of worship involved in the group’s Seventh Day Initiative include Congregation Beth Shalom, St. Thomas Lutheran Church, Trinity Episcopal Church, and Unitarian Universalist Church, all of Bloomington. The Englewood Christian Church and Unitarian Universalist Church of Indianapolis are also participating.

Hirschland, a member of Congregation Beth-Shalom, said the idea behind the project comes from the Judeo-Christian teaching that on the seventh day of creation, God rested, and therefore conserved energy. The collaboration between the faith-based groups shares a belief that people should work to care for God’s creation.

“We’d love to work with any congregation interested in going green,” she said, explaining that as part of the grant, participants will go around the state explaining the project results next year. A stop at the White Violet Center at St. Mary-of-the-Woods is in the works, she said. “We’re also helping groups get started across the state.”

The 180 households of Congregation Beth-Shalom worship in a 10,000-square-foot building, she said. Between March and May, they’ll place upwards of 60 solar panels on the structure with hopes of producing about 40 percent of the facility’s electricity needs. Buildings vary in size, age and energy efficiency, and other strategies such as turning thermostats down to 50 degrees throughout the week can be incorporated, she pointed out.

Lt. Gov. Becky Skillman credited the goal of the project in a news release, adding its economic value in addition to environmental.

“Energy efficiency is paramount for homeowners, businesses and communities,” Skillman stated. “Projects like H-IPL are innovative and creative and they’ll provide tangible energy savings for Hoosiers.”

The group’s application was one of only five projects funded from among 58 applications for OED’s Community Conservation Challenge grants, a federally funded program that promotes energy efficiency, renewable energy and alternative fuel vehicle retrofit programs.

Joe Boling, a member of Englewood Christian Church, said their 50,000-square-foot building is used seven days a week for a number of community groups in addition to worship services.

“It’s a lot of space to heat and cool and we’re always looking for more ways to use it wisely,” he said.

That building is also slated to receive a 15-kilowatt system with 60 panels each designed to generate 250 watts. The church uses about 200,000 kilowatts per year, so this system should generate about 10 percent of the overall annual need. Meanwhile, energy audits and other studies are ongoing there as they continue to look for ways to both save money and help the environment, he said.

More information about Hoosier Interfaith Power and Light can be found online at www.hoosieripl.org.

Brian Boyce can be reached at 812-231-4253 or brian.boyce@tribstar.com.

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