Interfaith Power and Light
by Madeline Strong Diehl
"One minister called our wind turbine our steeple," says Hannah Hotchkiss, welcome ministry coordinator at the First Unitarian Universalist Congregation of Ann Arbor (UU). Across the country, thousands of faith congregations are incorporating environmental stewardship into their spiritual practices in a growing movement dubbed "green religion." Here in Ann Arbor, the UU congregation led the way two years ago, installing the turbine and solar panels at its modernist facility on Ann Arbor-Saline Road. Combined with ongoing efficiency improvement, they'll help the church cut its commercial electricity use by up to 20 percent, according to Dave Friedrichs, church member and the owner of Ann Arbor-based Homeland Builders of Michigan, which specializes in sustainable design.
Friedrichs is also the treasurer of Michigan Interfaith Power & Light (MiIPL), the state branch of a national nonprofit organization that helps faith communities share information, resources, and bulk purchasing power. Though MiIPL is based in Royal Oak, three of its nine board members represent Ann Arbor faith communities. "Our mission is to deepen the connection between faith and ecology," explained Jane Vogel, a member of St. Francis of Assisi Catholic Church and president of the board of MiIPL. "Caring for God's creation and its deep distresses is relevant to all people of faith." The board and staff are highly diverse, including representatives from Jewish, Muslim, and Christian congregations statewide.
Friedrichs, an Ann Arbor resident since 1971, says every MiIPL project starts with an audit to find ways to conserve energy. Then he and other MiIPL consultants determine if the site receives enough sunlight and/or wind to benefit from solar or wind technology. Though no church has yet gone off grid, Friedrichs says that the Ann Arbor UU church could almost do so if it covered its large, south-facing roof with photovoltaic panels.
That many panels would cost about $250,000, so right now, the church has no plans to tap into this potential--though according to Friedrichs, it does set aside 3 to 5 percent of its annual budget for sustainability priorities.
[Originally published in June, 2013.]