WEST VALLEY CITY — For one small Episcopal church, new solar panels mean a big difference in its carbon footprint, the community and the congregation's devotion to God.
About 160 members of St. Stephen's Episcopal Church, 4615 S. 3200 West, were able to raise $7,500 in conjunction with a grant from the Rocky Mountain Blue Sky Foundation and Utah's Interfaith Power and Light Organization to install 76 solar panels on the roof of the church, cutting the facility's energy bill in half.
The Rev. Matt Seddon, vicar of St. Stephen's Episcopal Church, said he expects the new panels to save the church nearly $6,000 annually. Seddon emphasized that the initiative to lower the church's carbon footprint was based upon members' faith in God.
"We really, deeply believe as Episcopalians that we’re called to sustain creation, to be good stewards of the Earth and to renew the face of the Earth. So we were looking for ways that we could cut our impact on the planet," he said.
The church first applied for the grant in May 2013. More than a year later, St. Stephen's has become the third-largest church in Utah to have an array of solar panels, Seddon said.
The installation was one of 10 other houses of worship that secured a grant from the Blue Sky Foundation to move toward renewable energy. The foundation supplied 86 percent of the project's cost, about $63,000 total.
Susan Soleil, executive director of Utah's Interfaith Power and Light chapter also had a hand in the costs, donating about $2,500 of the $75,000 project.
Interfaith Power and Light is a nonprofit organization that helps faith communities become more energy-efficient. Soleil said the devotion to renewable energy shown by St. Stephen's has set a shining example for the future.
"Instead of us now knocking on doors, we are getting calls from houses of worship and people (asking), 'How can we do this?'" she said. "I think it's going to create a lot of momentum, and I’m guessing in about 10 years, those house of worship without solar panels will stick out more than those that have them now."
For some members of the congregation, the solar panels are a symbol of the community and God's love for the Earth.
"If we’re going to be good stewards of God’s creation, part of it means not just taking. We need to be giving back, and I think the solar panels are a way we can sort of give back. The energy comes from God. It's like his grace," West Valley resident Jean Olsen said.
Olsen said she has attended St. Stephen's Episcopal Church since 2005. The decision, she said, "was a "no-brainer."
"I think the decision to go ahead with the solar panels was just absolutely perfect. We have this huge area of south-facing roof. What better place to put the solar panels?" Olsen said.
For Seddon, the solar panels in a way represent the modern form of the cross.
"What these have become is a visible indication that we are actually trying to practice what we preach, and I would say that in many ways it's just as important as showing the cross, which is a symbol of resurrection," he said.
"In many ways these solar panels are a symbol of resurrection because instead of simply using, we create and we renew and there's new life, and that’s what resurrection is all about," he said.
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