This small congregation that is part of both the United Church of Christ and the Christian Church (Disciples of Christ) has reduced their carbon footprint by 10 tons through a creative, three-pronged approach, and is reaching out to have a big impact in the community.
Niles Discovery Church reduced the energy use of their facility by 28% from 2015 to 2019 by installing 23.5 kW solar system of 84 panels that produces approximately 31,500 kWh per year. This is saving them $5,800 on electricity costs and provides most of their electricity needs. If they need additional electricity, which they estimate to be about 2-3% of their total electricity use annually, they purchase 100% green electricity from East Bay Community Energy. And they have purchased carbon offsets to offset their use of gas through IPL’s Carbon Covenant program. These actions have earned them a Cool Congregation Certification at 30% and above.
“Niles Discovery Church humbly embodies the ethos of leading by example. Through actions big and small, they demonstrate to congregants, community members, and neighboring faith communities how we can each tread thoughtfully on the earth,” says Liore Milgrom-Gartner, Northern California Director of California Interfaith Power & Light. “Congratulations on this recognition!”
Part of the energy reductions came from better setback practices with the thermostat, and training members to allow the lighting to operate on motion sensors instead of manually turning the lights on and off.
The congregation’s Ministry of Property Team, Green Team, and a special Solar Project Team all worked together to accomplish these goals.
“It has been our church’s reputation for many years to lead our community in areas of progressive change, and right now, we think climate change is a moral threat that needs addressing,” Green Team member Bill Palleschi says. “It is our intent to put a focus on this by making physical changes and putting out statements to show what small group of people can accomplish. We intend to be visible and helpful so we can lead by example. Being a Cool Congregation will be an accomplishment that we will be proud to broadcast.”
The team is reaching out into the community to educate and activate others. They are committed to engaging the members of the Tri-City Interfaith Council in promoting the importance of reducing energy use. The church’s Senior Pastor Jeffrey Spencer was instrumental in getting the City Council of Fremont to adopt a fossil fuel divestment resolution.
The church’s Green Team is promoting church members’ participation in the city of Fremont’s Green Challenge. Until one of the schools put together a team, they topped the standings in the program with 15 members enrolled. Their goal is to get 50% of their members enrolled.
The current Green Team was inspired to take action after a study of Jim Antal’s book, Climate Church, Climate World: How People of Faith Must Work for Change. They offered the book to their congregation for study and led discussions to engage their members and friends in the effort to reduce global warming. They are also purchasing copies of the book and donating them to other faith communities in the Tri-Cities of Fremont, Newark, and Union City.
Niles Discovery Church has also made another decision consistent with their desire to care for the planet by switching their congregation’s financial assets away from fossil fuel investments to cleaner investments.
“The climate crisis is the moral issue of our day,” Pastor Jeff said. “I am so pleased to be pastoring in a church where the members understand how important it is for us to address this crisis, both with our personal and community choices and by pressuring our elected leaders at every level to adopt policies that will make a real difference.”