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  • Writer's pictureRichard Alton

NIC congregations leading solar energy use save money and care for God’s creation

Last year the eleven United Methodist general agencies and the Council of Bishops pledged to achieve net zero greenhouse gas emissions by 2050. This means achieving a balance between the amount of greenhouse gas emissions they produce and those they remove from the atmosphere.  


What happens if we don’t reach net zero? Our emissions trap heat in the atmosphere and warm the planet, causing wildfires, droughts, floods, crop failures, famine, migration, and the destruction of the ecosystem. If these emissions continue, global warming will only intensify.


Net zero requires abatement of our emissions. We must eliminate carbon-producing activity. This will require our being less reliant on fossil fuels by pursuing efficient energy use, electrification, and renewables. A key action is to go solar.  


Solar gardens

Community solar is an important option for our congregations. You don’t need to do anything physical to your building, you won’t have any upfront costs, your monthly savings will be 20 percent of the electric bill’s energy cost. Yes, there is a cost saving, but just as important we will be supplying a huge amount of renewable energy to our energy system and therefore moving us all toward Net Zero. Less than 15 percent of the electricity we use from the grid is produced from renewable sources. To reduce emissions from electricity on the grid, we could take the following actions:  

  1. Use less electric energy so we need less from the grid.  

  2. Produce some of our own electric energy (from onsite solar), so we need less from the grid.

  3. Support new production from renewable sources such as solar gardens (community solar). An effective way to support new solar is to subscribe to a community solar project. (All of the energy produced by a community solar project is put on the grid.)


Community solar is an arrangement in which many customers subscribe to buy energy from a large solar garden developed and owned by a third party. A subscriber is assigned virtual “ownership” of a portion of the total system and agrees to purchase the energy produced by their portion. In Illinois, a concept called virtual net metering allows utilities to give their customers credit on their electric bill for the energy produced by their portion of a community solar project. For example, if the monthly bill from your utility for energy (in kilowatt-hours [kWh]) was $55 and your portion of the community solar produced $50 of energy, your net metered cost would be $55 minus $50, coming to $5. That is, your cost for the energy portion (not taxes and fees) of your utility bill would be $5, not $55.  


The objective is to support the production of new sources of renewable energy for the grid. However, compared to the total cost of the electric bill (including taxes and delivery charges) from your provider, the savings might appear small and not to be worth the effort.  


The big picture

However, the collective savings of all NIC United Methodist congregations could be huge. For example, if the real average energy usage of an average church is about 2,000 kWh per month and the cost per kWh is 10 cents ($0.10), then the cost is $200 per month, or $2,400 per year. A 20 percent discount is $480 per year. There are 324 churches in the conference so collectively, the savings would be $168,000 per year ($480 x 324) and $1,555,200 over 10 years. Over a million dollars is worth the effort, especially as these 324 churches all using community solar would not have to pay a penny for this huge collective savings. 


Not only would this be a huge financial savings, but also a significant step in moving to net zero. If each church uses and puts on the grid 2,000 kWh per month of renewable energy (24,000 kWh per year) from community solar, then 324 churches would put 8.4 million kWh per year of renewable energy on the grid (24,000 kWh/year per church x 324 churches=7,776,000 kWh/year). This would be a huge move toward our collective net zero. 


Three UM churches in the Oak Park/River Forest area—First UMC Oak Park, First UMC River Forest, and Euclid Avenue UMCs—are among nine congregations in that area that are already using community solar. Rev. Marti Scott, pastor of Euclid Avenue UMC, appreciates that going green with community solar will ease the stress on her congregation’s budget. They have an additional reason: “We’re doing this as a way of honoring the God of creation and fulfilling our ministry of caring for the earth,” she says. “That’s primary. We have come to understand that salvation is not only about humans but that it is really about all of creation. We have set off these gigantic changes in climate. We have brought a judgment on the Earth by the way we’ve lived and our excesses, so helping people to become better stewards, to care for the Earth, is a way to give the [planet], which is a gift from God, a chance at life.”


Become a better steward. Go community solar. 


Start your registration for community solar or email by contacting Vira Dubkova at Unity Solar Group, (773) 727 8347 or vira.d@unitysolargroup.com; or Maureen Stillman, member of the NIC Net Zero Task Force and of Community UMC, Naperville, at maureen.stillman@gmail.com.

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