Hawaii UCC works to win solar panel system

Hawaii UCC works to win solar panel system

For churches with limited budgets, it's not always easy being green – which is something Honolulu's Central Union Church United Church of Christ knows all too well. As it strives to achieve its environmental goals, the congregation is hoping to be the lucky nonprofit group that wins a $25,000 photovoltaic, or solar panel, system that will cut down on its energy use and power its facility with one of Hawaii's most plentiful resources: sunshine.

"Especially in Hawaii, our oceans continue to rise and some of our attractions might end up underwater, so it's really important for us to think about global warming," said Carolynn Bell-Tuttle, member and chair of Central Union's Green Team. "And it just so happens that with all of this retrofitting and changing to clean energy there is an economic advantage that would benefit the church and allow us to continue to do the programming in the community that we do."

The contest, sponsored by Enphase Energy, invited Hawaii-based nonprofits including churches, schools, museums and family service organizations to submit a video explaining why they deserve a solar panel system. The organization with the video that receives the most votes will win. Enphase Energy, a solar energy systems company based in Petaluma, Calif., came up with the giveaway in honor of the installation of its 25,000th solar panel system in Hawaii this summer. Anyone can watch the Central Union video and other entries on the contest website, and vote for their favorite video once a day until the contest ends Sept. 30. 

While Central Union hopes to win the system, the church's Green Team has been implementing ways for members to be environmentally responsible since 2008. The congregation focused on energy use and hired a company to conduct a full-scale energy audit a few years ago. The audit resulted in a list of suggested ways the church could make its building more efficient, such as tinting the windows to help keep the building cool, replacing outdated lighting systems, and upgrading the air conditioning unit to provide better airflow throughout the building. The church qualified for a loan from Hawaii Community Reinvestment Corporation, which offers loans at below-market rates to nonprofit organizations, to pay for some of those improvements. 

"The energy audit looked at the lifestyle of the buildings and the church campus and determined how we actually produce the energy that our buildings need," Bell-Tuttle said. "We were able to receive a loan and are in the process of retrofitting. It has been a long process but it's one of the moments where we feel like we are actually on track."

Upon completion of the energy retrofit, Central Union's estimated energy savings will be close to $60,000 per year, Bell-Tuttle said. Winning the photovoltaic system would be a bonus that could add to those savings. With grave concerns for the state of the environment and rising energy costs, Bell-Tuttle feels that the Christian faith is calling everyone to act.

"All across the country different faith groups are looking for ways we can use our resources better," Bell-Tuttle said. "And we are always looking for new revenue sources and ways to service our community."

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