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Here Comes the Sun -
First Parish in Concord Goes Solar

By Bob Andrews

If you have been around First Parish in Concord recently, you may have heard people singing that song. Solar panels are going up very soon on the southward-facing roofs of the church; and many First Parish members are excited, pleased and proud! After a unanimous positive vote of the congregation on Sunday, November 10, and a previous unanimous vote of the Historic District Commission (HDC), the $70,000 solar rooftop project is ready to roll.

Concord’s Solar Challenge is now closed to new participants and will be officially closed on December 15. According to CSEC Chair, Jill Appel:“there are 154 solar contracts for a total of close to 1.3 megawatts in solar power. This will reduce Concord's carbon emissions by roughly 1.3 million pounds each year. The results of the Concord Solar Challenge have greatly exceeded those of the State-sponsored Solarize programs in other MA communities. We should be very proud of our community's response to this incredible opportunity.” While responses to the Challenge have come mainly from residential owners, the movement toward solar installations has recently begun to spread to Concord’s institutions and businesses. First Parish in Concord is a leader in that movement,

First Parish in Concord is a Unitarian-Universalist (UU) church with a long history of support for environmental values. It is the church of Ralph Waldo Emerson and Henry David Thoreau. The UU denomination accredits its member churches as “Green Sanctuaries” when they can show that they honor and practice “green” values and goals in their everyday operations. First Parish applied for Green Sanctuary accreditation in 2009, and was granted that status shortly thereafter.

Consistent with this history, many FP members view their church as modeling an urgently needed transition away from energy generated by burning fossil fuels to alternative and sustainable energy sources; and they hope that other local faith communities will be inspired to move in the same direction. Over thirty years, an energy project such as this one can be viewed as akin to planting 18,600 trees or taking 133 cars off the road. Just imagine the impact if all the churches and other large institutions in town proceed in a similar direction!

In voting for the solar project, First Parish looked closely at economic and pragmatic considerations, along with sustainability. An important economic incentive was the knowledge that the solar panels will generate about 25% of the electricity needed for church operations. This project lowers operating costs and lessens the impact of future electricity price hikes. Doing it now reduces start-up costs because so many state and local financial incentives are currently in place.

It took a year to bring this project to fruition. The church’s Environmental Leadership Team (ELT), a group committed to providing leadership for the congregation as they attempt to translate Green Sanctuary principles into individual and community action, initiated the project. One team member, Mike Jacobs, a highly knowledgeable alternative energy professional, spearheaded the project, shepherding an ever-evolving proposal through multiple decision-making individuals and groups. In the end, it was no longer an ELT project; it was a church project that enhanced the collective sense of community.

Making the transition from burning fossil fuels to embracing alternative energy is at the core of the climate action movement in our state and nation. At the same time, it makes really good practical and economic sense. Large numbers of homeowners in Concord understand that, and have acted. It is now time for institutions and businesses to follow suit.

Bob Andrews is a Concord resident and member of both the ConcordCAN! Steering Group and the Environmental Leadership Team at First Parish in Concord..