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Celebrating a Solar Sanctuary

St Paul United Edmonton
Toward a Solar Sanctuary: St. Paul’s United Church, Edmonton
(Click on the photo above to view the video.)

2018 could easily be described as the year climate came home to roost. BC wildfires so extensive that cities across the country were blanketed in smog. Heat-related deaths in both Montreal and Ottawa. And a landmark scientific report imploring urgent action within 12 years to avoid catastrophic climate change.

Far from the headlines, a good news story was also developing. As of January 25, 2018, the rooftop solar panels at Edmonton’s St. Paul’s United Church were up and running. By year-end, “Solar St. Paul” had saved nearly 12,000 kilograms of carbon dioxide emissions (the equivalent of planting 40 trees) and the church had a heating bill of $0.

The exploration of solar at St. Paul’s was the result of a discernment process centred on the question, “who do we want to show ourselves to be?”

Though solar power was not (and is not) the norm for Alberta churches, the congregation at St. Paul’s understood this action as an outward-facing response to God’s call to care for creation. They recognized the problem of human-induced climate change and the disproportionate impact that it has on people living in poverty and facing other forms of marginalization around the world. Located mid-way between Fort McMurray and Calgary, these Edmontonians were acutely aware that by burning fossil fuels to heat and power their church, they too were contributing to climate change.

“We are called as Christians to take action and commanded to not bear false witness,” they say on the church website. “A solar array that provides 100% of our electricity is one way of taking such action.”

Thus motivated, St. Paul’s rapid mobilization and installation of the solar array (all within a year!) was expedited by three key factors.

  1. Political Synergy. St. Paul’s exploration of solar took place in the context of the Pan-Canadian Framework on Clean Growth and Climate Change, Energy Efficiency Alberta’s $36-million Residential and Commercial Solar Program, and the City of Edmonton’s “Change for Climate” climate change adaptation plan. In other words, amidst federal, provincial, and municipal government outspokenness on the importance of climate action.
  2. Visibility. As a result of their profile and high visibility, the solar panels played the additional role of public advocacy for energy sustainability and environmental awareness. They demonstrated forward-looking leadership and a recognition of the broader imperative of adapting to a new climate reality. “In Biblical terms,” say organizers, “it’s a bearing witness to our neighbours of the importance of our calling to be stewards of creation. It’s one way of letting our light shine.”
  3. Support. During April 2017, organizers received a quick series of green lights: first, general approval from the church community, then more formal agreement from the church Board of Directors, and ultimately from the city in the form of a $25,000 grant from the EcoCity Edmonton Energy Transition Acceleration Grant program for the solar installation project.

The bold steps taken by St. Paul’s offer a tremendous example of what can be done when a faith community leads with their values.

As an added bonus, in addition to emission reductions, their solar initiative has also produced significant financial side benefits. St. Paul’s uses around 28,600 kWh per year; the solar array provides 100% of the church’s electricity. It has a projected 30-40 year lifespan and an annual maintenance cost of approximately $150. The inverters (which convert the DC power generated by the solar panels into AC power for the electrical network) will need to be replaced every 10-15 years, however, through Alberta’s solar program, non-profit organizations are eligible for up to 25% of system costs.

To learn more about Solar St. Paul’s and their work to develop a “pathway towards the sacred,” click on the photo above to watch the Solar Sanctuary video, produced and directed by Beth Wishart MacKenzie as part of the Faithful Footprints project.

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  • Karri Munn-Venn

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