’Tis the season . . . for skyrocketing utility bills. Could your church use an energy tune-up? Whether it’s using new light bulbs, hanging sun-blocking blinds, using rain barrels, or installing solar panels, discussions about how to save energy and money is more than a lot of hot air.
Using free resources
Don’t worry about the dollar signs—yet—because lots of free help is available. For instance, your local electric and gas company should offer free assessments with a professional energy auditor who will check things like insulation, air filtration, and leaks around doors. An auditor should also give you advice on what to do to stop the money drain and can probably supply you with the names of local firms that specialize in energy-conserving fixes.
Energy Star, a voluntary program of the U.S. Environmental Protection Agency (EPA), is a great place to research energy conservation. The site is chock-full of free guides, tools, resource lists, and case studies. Plus, it has more energy-saving tips than any other online resource. You’ll even find specific tips and information for churches, including funding advice.
Using a calculator
“Many organizations choose to wait until funds are available in a future year’s budget rather than entering into a financing agreement that requires paying interest,” states Energy Star’s Action Workbook for Congregations. “Because the energy savings on most projects are so large, the lost savings incurred by waiting for one year are greater than all the present value of all the interest payments combined.
“The first step toward improving your worship facility’s energy performance is to educate the decision-makers that cost-effective, sustainable improvement of your building is achievable, and in the congregation’s best financial interest.”
Using a partner
Many of the same companies that heat and cool residences offer incentives to businesses and non-profits that are looking for ways to afford energy-efficient expenditures. First Baptist Church of Mustang, Okla., was able to make major facility changes thanks to such a program.
“We received a huge rebate from OG&E (Oklahoma Gas and Electric) and recently converted all of our worship center lights from traditional bulbs to LEDs,” says Jeff LeDuc, the church’s associate pastor. “It was a significant investment up front, but in the long run we’ll save on energy costs.”
Using a third party
Of course, action plans will vary from church to church based on size, location, age of the facility, etc. Resources to meet energy performance goals are just as broad.
Tom Price, co-founder of Bostwick Energy Partners in New York City, has a background of negotiating energy development deals for clients like the New York Yankees and IBM. His advice is directed to larger churches that might include several buildings on a multi-acre campus.
“Winter is unpredictable when it comes to energy, especially natural gas costs,” he explains. “Aside from weather stripping windows and doors, churches should look at what type, if any, third-party supplier contract they have signed. If they are paying a ‘floating’ price, it can skyrocket significantly over the winter months.”
Using the sun
Reed Crossley, a solar-marketing specialist with Revolve Solar based in Redding, California, says the company is seeing solar energy adoption become more mainstream. They recently installed solar equipment at Orchard Baptist Church in Vacaville, California.
“We are energy- and cost-conscious, and wanted to be better stewards of our finances,” says Paul Moore, Family Pastor at Orchard Baptist. The solar panels were added to the church less than a year ago, but the church has already seen a drop in utility costs. “Our electric bills have been cut by approximately thirty-one percent,” Moore confirms.
Revolve Solar made a video of the solar panel installation process to illustrate how a system can work in a church environment. “Churches and other houses of worship stand to benefit tremendously from existing solar incentives in addition to the long-term savings of owning or leasing a system,” Crossley says. “Utility rates almost certainly will go up, but with solar energy, a church is effectively locking in rates for decades.”
Using your dog
You could, of course, choose to stave off cold drafts in the manner of our colonial ancestors. Everybody and their dog came to church back in the day so that owners could slip their feet beneath their pets’ warm bodies. The barking, scratching, and whining during services became a bone of contention, however, and the practice was scrapped entirely when heating stoves became available.
So if you scan the congregation and everyone on your right is wearing gloves, but everyone on your left is fanning their bulletins . . . if you keep an oscillating fan running on the floor behind your desk no matter the time of year, take note: You might be an energy waster. The good news is, now you’re equipped with affordable solutions that can remedy this.
Use the comments section below and tell us what you do to save money on utility bills!
Judy Bumgarner is a freelance writer in Nashville, Tennessee. She also works at Brentwood United Methodist Church in the church’s Caring Ministry.