By Yonat Shimron
GREENSBORO, N.C. (RNS) — Faith Community Church, a small, mostly African-American congregation, has a long history of activism dating back to the civil rights era.
About a decade ago, church members, who worship in a small space within the Beloved Community Center, a larger hub for social justice activism, began to recognize the growing urgency of climate change, as well.
Across town, Greensboro’s Jewish synagogue, Temple Emanuel, installed rooftop solar panels at a cost of $25,000, paid for with donations from members.
Down the road in Chapel Hill, 50 miles to the east, a United Church of Christ congregation installed a far larger solar array capable of capturing 60 percent of its electrical needs for a whopping $240,000 — making it one of the largest solar systems on a house of worship in the entire Southeast.
Faith Community’s 50 or so members, mostly working-class, could only dream of that kind of project.
So they came up with a novel solution. They partnered with an environmental advocacy organization, NC Warn, to install solar panels on the community center’s roof for free. In exchange, the church agreed to buy its electricity from NC Warn (it stands for North Carolina Waste Awareness and Reduction Network) at 5 cents per kilowatt-hour, well below the 11 cents per kilowatt-hour the congregation had been paying the state’s monopoly power supplier, Duke Energy.
Last week, the state’s Supreme Court ruled the arrangement violated state restrictionson who can sell electricity in the state. In North Carolina, only one company can sell electricity — Duke Energy, the country’s second-largest utility, which provides power to six states.
NC Warn, which spent about $20,000 on Faith Community’s solar panels three years ago, has agreed donate the system to the church so members don’t have to foot the bill, and the church continues to benefit from lower utility bills thanks to the panels, now connected to Duke Energy.
The church, meanwhile, is continuing to fight for deregulation and clean energy for other churches.
“We are deeply committed to doing what we can as a small black church to promote solar energy,” said Nelson Johnson, Faith Community Church’s recently retired pastor. “It’s not just that we pay a little less; it’s that we are doing the responsible thing as it relates to reducing our carbon footprint.”