Left to right, Claire Loveless, Richard Looney, Doug Miller and Emily Bidgood. (Photos by Lee Talbert/Johnson City Press)
The Cool Congregations program is a win-win situation for churches that choose to participate — they conserve energy use and save dollars at the same time.
Funded by a grant from the Harris Fund of the East Tennessee Foundation in 2013, the program, through the Green Interfaith Network Inc., gives eligible churches money and reason to undergo an energy audit of their facilities and make improvements with one of five $500 checks.
Munsey Memorial United Methodist Church in downtown Johnson City was the most recent recipient, being rewarded a big check at the beginning of its Thursday night church council meeting.
Green Interfaith Network President Emily Bidgood awarded the check to Munsey’s Senior Minister Richard Looney, Claire Loveless and director of facilities and media Doug Miller, who was the man in charge when a recent energy audit of Munsey’s 95,000-square foot-collection of space revealed areas that need energy-saving consideration.
“Munsey is a leader already,” Bidgood said. “We’ve already done a walk-through energy audit, and working with Doug, we have a list of energy priorities.”
Miller said the list starts with what he calls “low-hanging fruit” improvements, like light bulb upgrades and LED lighting improvements. The $500 was already spent, he said, on $28 LED light bulbs, with many more on the way. What’s gained with these quick improvements will be significant, Miller said, with 95-watt bulbs going down to eight-watt bulbs, as well as the temperature of these bulbs going from 210 degrees down to 116, which will cut down significantly on energy bills in general.
With the savings come a responsibility to take part in the green network’s pay-it-forward policy with these grants, something Munsey is proud to do. Based on a model that’s been successful across Ohio, 300 participating churches there were, on average, able to repay the $500 grant within about six months to a year, thus opening up another spot for another church to join in “going green.” Other big improvements were made in Ohio with appliance upgrades, which can help save money quickly.
St. John’s Episcopal Church, just up Roan Street from Munsey, was finishing up its $500 grant year. St. Mary’s Catholic Church and the Wesley Foundation, which operates the Wesley House on East Tennessee State University’s campus, were in the process of earning the grant.
Bidgood said the goal is to get all six church grant spots filled this year, and perhaps next year, double that number and possibly hit 15 in all. There’s nothing to lose in trying to get as many churches on board as possible, said Bidgood.
“It saves money, builds community, and is something that’s interesting to all generations and congregants,” she said.
Not only will church facilities benefit from the push to conserve energy, so will the houses of some of those who frequent the participating churches. Munsey has about 10 households so far that signed up to take part in a home energy audit so they can save energy costs and consumption there as well.
Bidgood said they hope the idea spreads quickly and urges anyone interested in having their church adopt the program put pressure on church organizers to look into Cool Congregations.
“This will only work if more churches sign up,” Bidgood said.
For more information about the program, go to www.greenineterfaith.org.