First Congregational Church of Oshkosh in Wisconsin is certified as a Cool Congregation at the 20% carbon reduction level for their energy efficiency improvements and solar installation that cut their emissions by nearly 28 tons.
“Our faith and scripture make it clear that the earth is God’s beloved creation and that all the lives and life it sustains are precious in God’s sight,” Rev. Nancy Taylor of First Congregational Church says. “Whether it’s in the poetry of the Psalms — “The earth is the Lord’s, and all that is in it; the world, and all that live in it” — or in Jesus’ teachings — God remembers all creatures, including sparrows — we hear of God’s love for the earth, and we hear God’s call to care for the earth and all that live in it.”
“First Congregational Church of Oshkosh seeks to embrace that call and to do what we can to nurture the health of God’s beloved planet through the use of solar energy, other energy-saving steps, intensive recycling programs, and more.“
Read about this church’s transformation in the words of church member Patricia Dwyer-Hallquist,
“The congregation was motivated by a concern for the detrimental effects of a changing climate on people and all living things on Earth. A banner on the outside of the church begins with “BE THE CHURCH – Protect the environment. Care for the poor.” They also realized that steps to lower the use of fossil fuels would lower utility bills.
The members and friends of First Congregational Church of Oshkosh gather in a beautiful historic building in downtown Oshkosh. The sanctuary was dedicated in 1912, and the two-story education wing was completed in 1963. The building used fluorescent tubes in the education wing and incandescent bulbs in chandeliers in the sanctuary. The wiring in the chandeliers was shorting out and needed to be replaced for safety reasons.
The three old boilers that used to heat the building were very inefficient. In addition to concern about high utility bills, many members were concerned about climate change and realized that the burning of fossil fuels is a primary cause of climate change.
First Congregational Church lowered its energy costs and carbon footprint by the installation of solar panels in June 2018, replacement of many of the light bulbs with LED bulbs as rooms were remodeled from 2018 to 2021, and the replacement of one of its aging natural gas boilers with a high-efficiency boiler that was functional by mid-October of 2022.
The entire project cost $71,181, and the church is saving $3760 annually on energy bills.
First Congregational Church tracks energy use with the Energy Star Portfolio Manager and solar panel output with the Sunny Portal App. Electricity from the grid was reduced by 28,000 KWh, for an annual savings of $3,300. Electricity produced by the solar panels in 2023 was 21,000 KWh, indicating that LED bulbs and other energy efficiency measures contributed to the decreased electricity use.
Installation of the high-efficiency boiler decreased annual natural gas use by 951 therms, for an estimated annual savings of $460.
Rewiring and installation of LEDs in the sanctuary chandeliers cost $6831. A large part of this cost was due to the restoration of the chandeliers to their historical appearance.
Due to grant money, the solar panels cost the church $34,500, less than the total cost of $48,500.
The new boiler installation included $18,750 for the high-efficiency boiler, $7,250 for exhaust pipe reconfiguration, and $4650 for a smart pump. First Congregational Church also received an $800 Focus on Energy rebate for the high-efficiency furnace. The old boiler was expected to fail soon. In the future, the installation of a 2nd high-efficiency boiler will not require the exhaust pipe reconfiguration and may eliminate the need for a 3rd boiler.
Most importantly, the church has reduced its CO2e location-based emissions by 27.50 metric tons (a decrease of 22.1%) when comparing the year ending in October 2023 to the year ending in January 2018.
First Congregational Church’s efforts to decrease its carbon footprint demonstrated to the congregation and the larger community that renewable energy and energy efficiency are feasible. Caring for creation does not mean breaking the bank when taking a long-term view of the costs.
As part of outreach to the larger community, for the first five years after installation, First Congregational Church donated 10% of its energy savings bills realized by the solar panels to the Christine Ann Center, a domestic violence shelter located near our church.
First Congregational Church participated as a virtual site in the 2023 ASES National Solar Tour, sharing its story with people across the country.
The first successful steps towards a more sustainable church inspired us to take more steps.
Additional efforts to make our church more sustainable include recycling efforts, a pollinator garden, a community garden to provide produce to the local food pantry, replacement of disposable dishes with reusable dishes during potlucks and fellowship hours, and members taking home food waste for their home compost bins.
This past summer, First Congregational Church participated in the Climate Hope Campaign sponsored by the United Church of Christ. We will continue our efforts to care for creation and become a more sustainable church.
This multi-pronged project was spearheaded by numerous dedicated people at the church over a four-year period. The proposal for solar panels was developed by a group of dedicated Green Team members led by Jeff Puhlmann-Becker and Laura Hartman. The Building and Grounds Ministry group led by Sarah Dempsey and Tom Patt and building managers Jean Bord-Pire and Dave Elbing spent many hours working on these projects. The congregation supported the projects by donating to the Next Step Together Campaign.”
Church website: www.fccoshkosh.org
For more information, contact Patricia at phallquist2 at gmail.com
Wisconsin Interfaith Power & Light is a part of the regional IPL affiliate, Faith in Place. Please contact Faith in Place’s Program Director, Ramont Bell, email@example.com, for more information on local resources to cut the carbon at your congregation.
Check IPL National’s Solar Resources for information on going solar – solar financing, finding a solar installer, and more.