Vermont Interfaith Power and Light

A faith-based response to global climate change

Energy assessment can help parishes save money, environment

By Cori Fugere Urban
Staff Reporter

ST. JOHNSBURY — Ron McGarvey has visited more than two-dozen churches in the past year, looking at windows and boilers and doors, trying to identify opportunities for energy efficiency improvements and ways to save on energy bills.

On Sept. 29 he did a walk-through energy assessment of St. John the Evangelist Church, rectory, and parish center here.

What he found was a parish already energy-conscious, and looking to conserve even more.

Within the last few years new energy-efficient boilers were installed in the church and rectory, the parish center got a new roof with increased insulation, clear protective windows were replaced over the stained glass windows in the church, and the parish center heating system was updated.

“But we know there are other things we can look at,” said Father Patrick Forman, St. John pastor.

So when Dr. John Ajamie, a member of the Parish Council and its Buildings and Grounds Committee, suggested an energy assessment he read about in The Vermont Catholic Tribune, McGarvey’s services were requested.

As a volunteer energy auditor with Vermont Interfaith Power & Light, a faith-based response to global warming, McGarvey uses his energy-saving expertise to help churches cut energy costs while helping to combat global warming. He is the retired director of residential energy services for Efficiency Vermont, the energy efficiency utility for the state of Vermont that is funded through electric rates. He said Vermont is the first state in the nation to have an efficiency utility enabled by the legislature.

Vermont Interfaith Power & Light seeks to educate faith communities and individuals about the threat global warming presents to creation and Earth and to engage communities of faith in promoting energy conservation, efficiency, and renewable energy as a solution. The organization’s goal is to motivate Vermont’s faith communities in promoting energy conservation and using renewable energy as a way of reducing greenhouse gas emissions while living out their covenant with the Creator.

McGarvey, who also worked for a natural gas utility in Michigan as manager of energy conservation services, provides the energy assessments only for churches, but he said the free program is really a success not only when the church can reduce energy use but when members identify in their personal lives that being more energy efficient is compatible with their religious faith.

Although some people see global warming as a crisis, others dismiss it. “I think our activities and our use of fossil fuels is affecting the climate,” he said. “If we can use resources more efficiently…why shouldn’t we do it?”

In the year after the boilers were replaced in the church and rectory, the parish cut its fuel consumption by 35-40 percent, Father Forman noted. “I’m sure we’ve recouped our investment already.”

The pastor said the parish is open to other ways to make the church, rectory, and parish center more energy efficient. “It’s a win-win situation: preserve natural resources and cut down on consumption and costs at the same time,” he said.

The main areas McGarvey addresses in his assessment are:
Heating: What is the thermal integrity of the building? Are there places where heat loss could be reduced? Is there weather stripping and insulation? Is the heating system efficient?
Equipment: How is the heat distributed and used? Are there heating zones?
Electricity: What is the condition of lighting and air conditioning? Is the kitchen equipment used effectively or, for example, are two refrigerators being used when one would be sufficient?

Ajamie, who has long had an interest in energy conservation, said the goal of the Buildings and Grounds Committee is to decrease energy use in all of the buildings, especially in the parish center, which is an old school with inefficient windows that shed a lot of heat.

Besides heating issues, electricity consumption is an area St. John the Evangelist Parish could address. For the last year, electric bills have totaled more than $4,000 for the church, $2,200 for the rectory, and $3,500 for the parish center.

Ajamie said there is a biblical basis for energy conservation: “In Genesis the Lord said, ‘Take care of the Earth and its creatures.’ We’re part of that and need to do that.”
Even if one does not acknowledge the theological basis for energy conservation, Ajamie said the environmental basis is clear: Take care of your home.

Because many people look up to their church and clergy, he said he hopes the example St. John sets will be carried into the community by parishioners. When people use energy efficiently, “it’s being good stewards of the Earth; it’s good to spread that idea to parishioners,” he said.

Added McGarvey, “Christians look upon it as stewardship of the Earth and it’s part of our practice.”

By conserving energy, the parish will save money, Ajamie pointed out. Thus it would be able to put more of its contributions toward other purposes, such as education, evangelization, and charity.

McGarvey, a parishioner of Christ Church Presbyterian in Burlington, agreed: “Anything you can save a church on its utility bills is presumably something that can go to its mission.”

In sum, McGarvey said energy conservation is economical, improves the environment, and is consistent with faith.

He praised the people of the churches who have undergone assessments to see how they might conserve energy. “They are to be commended for recognizing that there are opportunities to be more efficient, and that being more efficient benefits the church and … is part of the church’s mission.”

Once McGarvey has studied the information collected on his walk-through energy assessment, he will report his findings to Father Forman and parish leaders.

McGarvey performed an assessment for St. Paul Church in Manchester Center earlier this year, and though the parish is implementing many of the energy-saving suggestions the assessment generated, parish administrative assistant Linda Sandquist said it is still too early to tell how much the measures are saving the parish. “They gave us (ideas for) almost everything you can think of,” she said, from changing the light bulbs to replacing windows. “We’re taking a look at each one and prioritizing.”

In Morrisville and Hyde Park, Father Paul Houde had the energy efficiency utility conduct energy audits about a year ago at the two Catholic churches, and the rectory and parish center in Morrisville. He said the report gave several suggestions that were implemented, including changing the canned light fixtures set into the rectory ceiling that created heat loss and used higher wattage bulbs. The change created savings in heating and electricity costs, he said.

Another energy-saving measure implemented in Morrisville was the use of ceiling fans to push the heat down in the church, and setting programmable thermostats to reduce the heat in the church shortly before the end of Masses.

“I know we’re saving an awful lot of money and we’re continuing to do things” to conserve energy, said the pastor of Holy Cross Church in Morrisville and St. Teresa Church in Hyde Park. These continued projects include insulating the foundation of the parish center and replacing windows in the rectory and parish hall.

With energy and insurance costs rising, he said it’s important to save money where possible.

Father Houde said the parishes and the Bishop John A. Marshall School in Morrisville have undertaken numerous energy-saving measures, not just to save money but to help the environment. “If everybody is burning all this extra fuel (unnecessarily), it does add up,” he said. “The more the demand, the greater the fuel cost, and that affects everybody … . If everybody were to cut back, you’d see a difference” in the cost of energy and in global warming.

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