Interfaith Solar Initiative promotes clean energy, care for creation among faithful

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WARWICK — Churches, parishioners and members of the wider community interested in learning about how to “go green” with solar energy can now look to the Interfaith Solar Initiative, a multi-denominational organization launched in January to educate faith communities and their congregations about the environmental benefits of solar power.

The initiative is an outreach of Rhode Island Interfaith Power and Light, a faith-based organization that works to raise awareness among religious groups about the moral obligations of care for creation and climate change, in partnership with SmartPower, a nonprofit marketing firm that promotes renewable energy. Organizers hope to educate members of religious groups and their communities about ways to reduce their environmental footprint and connect them with opportunities for renewable energy.

“We see climate change as a moral obligation and as a faith-based organization, we’re trying to get all the religious together,” said Kristen Ivy Moses, executive director of RI Interfaith Power and Light. “We’re definitely interested in getting the word out and getting organizations to join.”

As part of its mission to connect faith congregations with opportunities for clean energy, the Interfaith Solar Initiative holds regular events at churches and centers of worship around the state. In April, St. Gregory the Great Church, Warwick, hosted an open event for community members interested in learning more about solar energy.

Karen Stewart, an outreach manager for SmartPower, offered a presentation about the financial and environmental benefits of solar energy. She spoke about the federal and state tax incentives for installing a solar array in Rhode Island, as well as a National Grid program that allows solar households to sell electricity back to the grid for 34 cents per kilowatt-hour, about twice the current consumer rate.

“That perfect storm of incentives is kind of happening right now,” she said. “Rhode Island has become one of the best places to go solar in the nation.”

While solar energy was once thought of as a high-cost option only homeowners concerned about the environment could afford, Stewart emphasized that as systems become more efficient, “going solar” is increasingly becoming a financial investment. Given the current incentives and potential energy savings, she estimated that a typical solar array purchased and installed in Rhode Island would pay for itself in about eight years.

“When I started in 1999, equipment costs were really only approachable for people who were doing this not as an investment but for the environment,” she said.

Prior to the presentation, visitors had the opportunity to meet with representatives of solar energy companies and sign up for a free solar assessment of their home. Technicians were on hand to answer questions about the technical requirements for homes.

“We typically bring in one technical expert. It’s great because when you have a tech expert in the room, they’re dealing with these issues every day out in the field. The ultimate goal is for them to know what they can do at their house,” said Stewart.

Keri Castro and David Gaipo were among the community members who attended the event. The couple said they had been interested in solar power for some time and were doing preliminary research on whether a home they were planning to purchase in Cranston would be compatible with solar energy.

“It’s one of the main reasons we decided to buy a house is to install [solar panels],” said Castro.

“It’s something I’ve been interested in for a while,” said Gaipo. “The environmental is one thing we’re interested in, the cost savings, the security.”

Marty Davey, a parishioner at Saints Rose and Clement Parish, Warwick, serves on the board of directors of RI Interfaith Power and Light. She said she was happy to see some parishes supporting the efforts to promote solar energy but wishes more priests would speak openly about Church teaching on concern for the environment.

“There needs to be some preaching,” she said. “We’re talking about creation and destruction of creation.”

She said the faith communities that make up RI Interfaith Power and Light see care for creation, including the promotion of renewable energy sources, as part of their religious duties.

“It’s also about the fact that the people least responsible for environmental destruction bear the brunt of it. It’s a moral issue,” said Davey.

According to Moses, the Interfaith Solar Initiative plans to continue holding events at faith communities around the state through the summer and fall. The organization also has resources available to churches and religious institutions interested in converting their buildings to solar energy.