Saturday, June 2, 2012


Groundswell helps communities leverage their collective purchasing power to win the best possible deals on clean energy. They bring together nonprofits, community groups, churches, or individuals to make bulk purchases of wind-powered electricity, for example, or energy efficiency upgrades on homes and buildings. Buying as a group allows them to negotiate lower prices, and could potentially make this type of service available in areas where individuals and solitary community groups cannot afford it alone.

Reverend Tom Knoll of First Trinity Lutheran Church says his congregation saved $6,000 in a year by partnering with other Washington, D.C., churches to buy wind power. The church plowed the savings into charitable programs such as a food pantry, low-income housing, and job training programs.
The nonprofit has negotiated reduced prices on renewable energy for three cohorts of community and religious institutions in the past year. [A March, 2012] purchase ... counted 103 groups from across Maryland and the District — more than twice the number that participated in the previous round. The Georgetown Presbyterian Church, Cesar Chavez Public Charter Schools for Public Policy and the NAACP were among the groups that took part.  Clean energy “wasn’t cost viable for community institutions so our idea to push for aggregation was actually an innovation to try to figure out how can we make clean energy work while delivering an economic benefit,” co-founder Will Byrne said.... The nonprofit’s second purchase agreement saved 38 organizations a total of $215,000 on their annual energy bills, an average cost reduction of 12 percent.
The group ... has grown from 11 religious institutions that saved nearly $100,000 in their first pooled purchase in 2011.

This year, the groups are expected to buy more than $5 million in power. There are now 119 groups in the coalition, including a charter school, a mosque and a nonprofit housing group, she said.

Knoll said his church has knocked between $3,000 and $4,000 off its $30,000-a-year power bill, which includes the church, an apartment building for the homeless and restaurants used for job training.
With their cavernous sanctuaries, large meeting spaces and multi-use buildings often open day and night, churches, synagogues and other religious spaces are particularly clobbered by utility bills that can run into the thousands of dollars each month. Beyond dollars and cents, many congregations also consider environmental measures such as reducing  greenhouse gas emissions as part of their duty to care for God’s creation.

The Energy Star program, which created a certification system for houses of worship a year and a half ago, calculates that by cutting energy use by at least 10 percent, the nation’s estimated 370,000 religious buildings could save a combined $315 million a year and reduce emissions by the equivalent of taking 240,000 cars off the road.
Many congregations already treat the environment as a fundamental part of their mission. Officials with Interfaith Power & Light, a network of religious institutions with affiliates in 38 states, said members are installing solar panels, undertaking energy-saving retrofits, buying green power, instilling a love for the earth in sermons and lobbying elected officials for clean energy alternatives.

At St. Columba’s Episcopal Church in northwest Washington, an environmental committee was created from the congregation of 3,800 several years ago to come up with energy-saving measures like installing motion sensor lights and purchasing wind power through the local utility.

Still, said Paul J. Barkett, the church’s chief operating officer, St. Columba’s faced monthly energy bills that averaged $8,000, mostly to heat and cool two buildings housing the church, which opens its showers, washers and dryers to about 35 of the community’s homeless people.

Columba’s now expects to save up to $12,000 a year after joining the purchasing group. The church operates on an annual budget of $2.4 million that is mostly drawn from parishioners’ contributions, he said.
And the groups are not concerned only about price. While that is the top factor, the bids are also judged on how green the energy is.... Wind power supplied 80 percent of the electricity for the institutions that took part in the last contract, and provided 50 percent of the electricity to people who made individual purchases available to them through their member organization. The groups are hoping to increase that percentage in the new contract, she said.

All things equal, the groups will choose clean energy. If clean energy costs more, "then it becomes more of a difficult decision," Knoll said. He said the members thought initially that wind-power credits would be too expensive, but have found that's not the case.
Church and community groups are not alone in seeking to aggregate and cut their electricity bills. Voters in parts of Illinois, for example, have a referendum on the ballot Tuesday to allow nearly 300 communities and counties to negotiate joint power purchases.

Martin Trimble, an organizer of the Metro Industrial Areas Foundation, a Chicago-based non-profit that works with volunteer organizations, said his group has had to subsidize the Washington effort with staff time. However, it is eager to expand the model because it has shown pooled purchases can save money.
"Power in numbers: Crowd purchasing brings clean energy within reach"
By Rebecca Messner
May 16, 2012
"Banding together to get cheaper electricity"
By Steven Overly, 
The Washington Post
March 25, 2012
"DC groups pool buying power to save on electricity"
by Alex Dominguez, Associated Press
March 19, 2012
"Coming Together to Pray, and Also to Find Reduced-Rate Energy Deals"
By Mireya Navarro
The New York Times
July 30, 2011

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