Faith Based Community Solar Farm Project
Sourcing electricity from instate renewables aligns strongly with our core values as a faith community. Shifting to renewable energy is also a responsible choice on purely financial metrics. The Portland Public School Board, for example, recently voted unanimously to issue an RFP for solar power to cover 80% of its energy needs—3,500 kW on about 9 acres of land. Their analysis showed a projected savings of over $50,000 (8%) each year, with no upfront costs. The price of power, moreover, will be known for 20 years, reducing budget risks. We believe that similar economies can be realized by bringing together the power needs of the many churches, synagogues, rectories, parish halls, and mosques.
The time to act is now. Maine recently enacted laws that make large-scale, cost-effective shared solar resources possible. On the other hand, federal investment tax credits are phasing out, with step-downs in 2020, 2021 and 2022. Moving rapidly will allow us to secure the lowest possible costs and to leverage the substantial interest in Maine solar projects sparked by the new laws.
The diocese is leading an effort to issue a Request for Proposal for a shared facility, owned and operated by a third party, that would supply the power for facilities in the CMP area. If viable, we would follow up with another proposal for outside the CMP service area.
UPDATE ON PROJECT DEVELOPMENT April 22, 2020
Diocese continues solar farm development
The diocese passed a resolution last fall at convention authorizing the establishment of an appointed body to explore the opportunity of a faith-based solar farm initiative. The bishop appointed the Very Rev. Dr. Ben Shambaugh, Dean of the Cathedral, the Rev. Nathan Ferrell, Rector of Saint Mary's, Falmouth, and Ms. Elizabeth Parsons to work with John Hennessy, Director of Advocacy and our volunteer consultant, Robert Stoddard, a parishioner at St. Alban’s, Cape Elizabeth.
The group has reached out to all churches in the diocese to get a sense of interest and commitment to be part of the project. Although the first phase of this work is slated only for faith communities in the Central Maine Power service area, response across the diocese has been robust.
In order to be cost effective, the project is expected to accommodate around 100 or so facilities including churches, synagogues, rectories, parish halls, missions, etc. Synagogues? Yes, this initiative is open to all faith communities who are interested in saving God’s creation. Solar farms are among the top ten most viable options for stopping global warming. Thanks to some great press, the group is hearing from many different faith traditions. All are welcome.
The next phase of this work is to draft a request for proposal and that is in process now. If all goes well, we hope to be in the market sometime later next month or early June. Feel free to connect with John Hennessy if you want more information.
LETTER TO CONGREGATIONS January 16, 2020
Dear Friends in the Central Maine Power service area:
Wouldn’t it be wonderful to lower your electricity costs, lower your carbon footprint, and provide a powerful witness of your church’s commitment to care for creation at the same time? We invite you to join our congregations in doing these things by participating in a Faith Based Community Solar Farm.
Legislation passed in Augusta last summer allowed larger groups to join together to do this in a way which is much more efficient and cost-effective than doing solar installations on our own. In a resolution passed at October’s convention, the Diocese of Maine encourages all of our congregations (and our interfaith and ecumenical partners) to join in this effort. The more congregations we get, the greater our savings will be! A timely response, however, is needed to make this happen.
All we need now is a statement from your vestry or bishop’s committee that you are willing to take the next step and provide information about your current electrical usage for an RFP, which will be used to provide accurate projections of costs and benefits.
The following is a sample text you can use to signify your intent to participate while also giving you the freedom to withdraw before any specific commitments are made:
We, _________, striving to be careful stewards of God’s creation and frugal stewards of our financial resources, hereby signify our desire to purchase our electricity from the proposed Faith Based Community Solar Farm once that project is completed. We reserve the right to withdraw from participation in this project for any reason before signing a future Power Purchase Agreement.
We ask that you bring this resolution to your next Vestry or Bishop’s Committee meeting! A FAQ sheet and copies of the Diocesan Convention resolution are below. Please contact John Hennessy, Directory of Advocacy, at 207-772-1953 x126, to answer questions or provide additional material. Please also call him once a resolution has been approved and your congregation is on board!
Thank you in advance for your support of this effort to save costs, put our faith in action, and combat climate change at the same time.
Yours in Christ,
The Rev. Benjamin Shambaugh, St. Luke’s Cathedral, Portland
The Rev. Nathan Ferrell, The Episcopal Church of St. Mary, Falmouth
CLICK HERE TO DOWNLOAD A PACKET CONTAINING THIS LETTER, FAQ SHEET, AND RESOLUTION OF THE 200th CONVENTION
FAITH COMMUNITY SOLAR FARM FAQs
1. Is there a hard deadline for responding to this invitation?
No, we aren't working with a hard deadline. The clock is ticking, though -- the federal tax incentives are sunsetting down, and the backlog of projects on solar developers' queues is getting longer. The sooner we can get to a critical mass, the sooner our churches start realizing the cost savings, and the greater those cost savings will be.
2. Who’s funding this and what are the expectations of faith communities?
• Ideally we'd have about 100 churches in the group, which would be about 2.5 MW (2,500 kW) of solar farm.
• The model that we're expecting to use has a third-party owner, who is an investor with the ability to use the tax incentives to offset gains elsewhere on its income statement. Solar developers have relationships with such investors. This is all part of the package that any developer we would select would bring to the table. The investor gets a return on its investment through the monthly electric usage payments of the churches.
• We are looking for a good-faith commitment to the RFP process, not a commitment to eventually sign a contract. It's not until we see the proposals and select the best one that there will be a call for any church to sign a contract.
• From the church's perspective, there is literally nothing to do other than pay your electric bills. The developer is responsible for everything else--financing, building and maintaining the solar farm. The contract rate for electricity paid by the churches covers all these costs.
3. How long will our be commitment under the contemplated contract?
We expect that the contracts with the CSF will be 15-20 years.
4. What happens if a member church has to drop out (e.g. it closes)?
Its share can be picked up by another subscriber. We are discussing what happens if there are any gaps in coverage, but that's a contract detail with the developer.
5. What legal entity will actually be the counterparty to the solar developer?
We will need a single entity signing the contract with the solar developer. This might be a special-purpose LLC that each subscriber church joins, or it might be the Diocese (which has the benefit of having some financial creditworthiness).
6. What are the expected costs to each church?
There will be no upfront capital costs; churches will be responsible for their own costs of legal review of contracts. There may be some allocation of advisor costs, or these costs might be absorbed by the Diocese.
7. How much will the power cost?
Based on bids received by other non-profits, we expect the cost of power will be fixed at under $0.10/kWh for the contract period. Under state law, CMP will provide a credit to churches of about $0.13/kWh, so the net cost will be about $0.07/kWh, or about half of the current charges paid by churches. (Assuming that each church is a Medium General Service customer.) The CMP credit will change over time but is unlikely to decline.
8. Will the churches retain the Renewable Energy Credits associated with the CSF?
9. What fraction of our power consumption will come from the CSF?
We are targeting 80% of current usage to minimize the risk that the annual output from the CSF exceeds the annual consumption of the subscriber churches, even as we install more energy efficient lighting and appliances. (Unused credits are valueless after 24 months.) This 20% slack can also be a way to manage the exit of a subscriber.
Information provided by Robert Stoddard, member of St. Alban’s Episcopal Church
RESOLUTION ADOPTED BY THE 200TH CONVENTION OF THE DIOCESE OF MAINE October 2019
Establishing Community Solar Farms
St. Luke’s Public Policy and Environmental Action Team
RESOLVED that the Diocese of Maine comments the Governor of the State of Maine for setting the goal of being carbon neutral by 2045, with 80 percent renewable energy for the State by 2030, up from 40 percent today and a goal of 100 percent by 2050; and be it further
RESOLVED that the Diocese of Maine supports these same goals for our congregations and diocesan buildings and ministries, and encourages our parishioners to do the same in their homes and business; and be it further
RESOLVED that the Diocese of Maine honors the congregations who have begun exploring the possibility of obtaining their electricity through community solar farms and encourages all congregations to consider the same and to encourage their ecumenical and interfaith neighbors to join these efforts; and be it further
RESOLVED that the Bishop be asked to appoint a body to help guide this process, working with public and private sectors and report back to Diocesan Convention on this matter in 2020.
According to Genesis 1:2, light was the first created element and is, thus, foundational to the rest of God's created order as well as to the Christian story.
Increased carbon emissions associated with human-produced industrial development has contributed mightily to an increase in Earth's average temperatures the past two centuries (https://www.ipcc.ch/).
The Rev. Jim Antal asserts that "[b]ecause Christians regard God as Creator, the church must proclaim God's love for creation and work to stop humanity from running Genesis in reverse." Climate Church, Climate World (Rowman and Littlefield, 2018, p. 48).
Solar farms are among the top ten most viable options for halting catastrophic global warming, potentially eliminating 36.9 gigatons of CO2 emissions by 2050 (https://www.drawdown.org/solutions/electricity-generation/solar-farms).
In his most recent book, Falter (Henry Holt, 2019), climate activist Bill McKibben argues that solar power, by virtue of being distributed energy, cannot be controlled by elite interests in the way that has become the case for fossil fuels. This technical quality of energy generation resonates with the spirit of promoting justice that constitutes part of the Episcopal Church's mission (Catechism, BCP, p. 855).
Taking action to promote solar generation at the Diocesan level would follow in the spirit of General Convention Resolution D053 "Stewardship of Creation with Church-owned Land" adopted in 2018.
The Diocese already has members with technical expertise and connections who can take leadership roles in overseeing and implementing this project.
Recent changes in Maine state law make CSFs more feasible just as the need for concrete, collective action is at its more urgent point.
Learn about the origin of this project in letter to the diocese: Exploring Faith Based Community Solar Farm Project 9/20/19
Portland Press Herald article: Faith groups exploring solar power possibility 10/30/19
FMI contact John Hennessy