Keizer church goes green

Keizer United Methodist Church is one of five local churches switching to solar power.

Clear Lake United Methodist Church in north Keizer is going solar.

Installation of the new panels began on Monday, Nov. 30, but the Keizer church is the latest of five Salem-area United Methodist Churches to go green.

The project was hatched in part by David Cox, a congregant of First United Methodist Church in downtown Salem.

“About two years go, I had a series of conversations with some fellow Sunday school teachers and one of the things that kept coming up was our worry about climate change,” Cox said. “None of us were happy about the federal response, and we weren’t thrilled about the state response. Finally, we asked the question, ‘Well, what are we doing?’”

The group decided to approach the leaders of the church with a plan to shift to solar power, but the scope of the project soon included five partner churches in the United Methodist community and a total of six buildings. It was the first major project the congregations undertook as part of its Open Doors initiative unifying the faith as a whole.

Cox thought the cost of converting First United in Salem was doable financially. But, with the inclusion of five other buildings on the list, the cost quickly ballooned to roughly $400,000.

The churches began applying for grants, but were told that they had a steep hill to climb in garnering approvals.

“One of the grant providers even told us that the weather in the Willamette Valley, with all the clouds we have, would be working against us,” Cox said.

To bolster their chances, the grant proposals included a storage battery installed at the downtown church that could help power the church in emergency situations and allow it to become a staging area for emergency management.

Despite the low odds, the church leaders persisted and the solar project received three major grants, from Energy Trust, the Oregon Department of Energy and Portland General Electric. Landing the grants reduced the cost to the congregations to roughly $160,000, they raised the remaining balance in three months.

“We were really proud of the way we did it,” Cox said. “We have some smaller churches that probably couldn’t have raised the money needed on their own. When we took in donations, we made sure everyone knew it would support all five churches.”

Clear Lake United Methodist will be the fourth church to begin producing power and only one major installation remains. Contractors are still working on getting the reserve battery installed at First United, but the major work is already complete. Trinity United Methodist Church, in Salem, will be the last one to go online. Because the building is designated as a historical site, none of the solar power equipment can be visible and will, instead, be placed underground.

The churches are expected to save approximately $660,000 over the next 25 years as a result of moving to renewable energy. The environmental benefits include: reducing the amount of gasoline consumed by roughly 16,000 gallons; reduced coal burning to the tune of 152,000 pounds; and reducing the amount of carbon dioxide ejected into the atmosphere by more than 300,000 pounds.

Cox said he’s looked for other churches in the state and country that have taken on such a massive project but he hasn’t found any yet.

“We wanted a project big enough that we could say we made a difference in climate change, a real difference. The real payoff would be inspiring others to make a similar change.”

Fortunately, Cox is already fielding calls of that exact nature.