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Power of Prayer Brings Clean Energy to American Churches

by Staff
Environmental News Network, November 8, 2001

A growing number of America's churches are keeping the lights on with wind and solar power, generated without pollution or global warming emissions. The switch to clean power is part of an interfaith movement that promotes stewardship of the Earth as an important mission for religious peoples.

Responding to climate change, the 1997 General Convention of the Episcopal Church USA passed a resolution calling on members to practice energy efficiency.

The outreach began in earnest two years ago at Grace Church in the Episcopal Diocese of San Francisco with the launch of The Regeneration Project, a San Francisco–based public charity, a project of the Tides Center. With its support, Rev. Sally Bingham, priest at Grace Cathedral who chairs the Commission for the Environment of the Episcopal Diocese of California, and Steve MacAusland, cochair of the Committee on Faith and the Environment for the Diocese of Massachusetts, are developing the Episcopal Power and Light (EP&L) ministry.

Within a year, nearly 60 religious groups in California had switched to green power. To date, 27 churches in California have installed solar panels on their roofs as part of a program within the Sacramento Municipal Utility. Many have chosen to purchase renewable energy from Green Mountain Energy Company, which brokers wind- and solar-generated electricity.

Bingham and MacAusland have been working quietly in churches across the country to encourage the purchase of renewable energy, and EP&L has grown into a national interfaith organization.

Last November, the Annual Convention of the Episcopal Diocese of Massachusetts passed a resolution calling for the diocese to lead in the formation of the Massachusetts Interfaith Energy Conservation Group.

In January, the Episcopal Diocese of Connecticut was the first customer in the state to buy renewable power from Green Mountain Energy. Rt. Rev. James Curry said at the time, "It is my great hope that our relationship with Green Mountain Energy will promote conversations about clean air and clean energy in the parishes and in the households of our church. And that our decision might encourage other faith communities to make clean energy a priority in their ministries."

Rev. Bingham will be in Knoxville, Tenn., this week to bring the renewable energy message to the movement's new chapter, Tennessee Interfaith Power & Light. She will preach a sermon titled "God's People and Earth's Future" and will meet with the area's public and religious leaders to discuss the role houses of worship can play in environmental stewardship.

Rev. Bingham's visit is the result of organizing work by the Southern Alliance for Clean Energy, a nonprofit coalition of 21 environmental and citizen organizations representing nearly 10,000 residents of the Southeastern states. The alliance has brought together a group of people from a wide range of religious backgrounds to work on renewable energy issues. They have formed Tennessee Interfaith Power & Light to expand Episcopal Power & Light's mission of stewardship into Tennessee.

One of EP&L's missions is to encourage the purchase of green power, often from programs such as Green Power Switch, a program of the federal power utility, the Tennessee Valley Authority (TVA). In April, a year after its launch, the Tennessee Valley Authority's Green Power Switch program has attracted 3,260 residential customers and 150 businesses willing to pay a little more for power from the sun and the wind.

Rev. Bingham's visit to Knoxville is taking her into a community receptive to her stewardship message. Nearly half of all residential Green Power Switch users came from one distributor — the Knoxville Utilities Board — which has aggressively promoted the program in advertising, at community events, and even in schools.

Twelve of TVA's 158 municipal power distributors and electric cooperatives offered Green Power Switch to their customers in the first year. More than 40 are now waiting to do the same.

"They are the only utility in the Southeast that has a program of this size and scale," said Stephen Smith, director of the Southern Alliance for Clean Energy.

The Regeneration Project and the faith-based alliances it has created believe that by using renewable energy they can help to limit global warming, which is linked to the burning of coal, oil, and gas for electricity.

Power of Prayer Brings Clean Energy to American Churches
Environmental News Network, November 8, 2001

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