By Dale Evarts.
IN AUGUST 2019, following a spiritual leading to live in harmony with Creation by harnessing the energy of the sun to power our meetinghouse, Durham Friends Meeting (DFM), a member of the North Carolina Yearly Meeting Conservative, began generating electricity from solar panels installed that summer. After a year of operation, the total electricity generated for the three buildings on our campus has been almost 30 megawatt hours, representing a savings on our annual electricity bill of over $3,300 and a reduction of 47,000 lbs of carbon dioxide! This success was the result of almost a year of planning and deliberation by the DFM community and coordination with the on-site Carolina Friends School’s pre-school.
DFM began exploring solar energy for its three-building campus several years ago, but it wasn’t until 2018 that solar panel cost reductions and efficiency improvements, along with a substantial rebate from our utility, made the project feasible. This coincided with the Meeting becoming more aware and concerned about the climate crisis.
Our Process and Goals
We established an Ad-Hoc Solar Committee under the care of the Business Meeting and created goals for the project. The committee evaluated estimates from solar installers based on a number of criteria, including: experience working with non-profit institutions; ability to assist with rebate applications; summer installation timing; coordinating hook-up with the utility; overall project cost; and solar generation performance guarantee. We brought decisions to the Business Meeting regularly, and communicated progress to the entire community to enable informed decisions on the project by the entire community at each step of the process.
Once the Meeting gave the tentative go-ahead for the project, we established a Fundraising Committee to determine how to pay for it. Many members expressed interest in this tangible effort to address the climate crisis, but we were concerned that the fundraising might impact regular contributions to our operating budget (even knowing that installed panels would reduce our utility costs). So we asked members to consider their pledges to be over and above their regular annual gift.
With a total projected cost of $77,000 dollars, we proposed that about one-third of the cost could be covered by the utility rebates; one-third could be a grant from DFM “legacy funds” left to us by a former member; and one-third could come from member donations (based on feedback from members).
Our Junior Meeting pledged $2,000 and challenged adults to contribute, saying, “In our lifetime many Quakers have worked to help the environment; we find it imperative for us to continue this work.” The month-long campaign raised the needed funds to enable DFM to contract for the system to be installed during the school’s summer break. We started harnessing the power of the sun in August!