2020 Awardee: Emmanuel Episcopal Church Recognized as “Solar Steward”

Emmanuel Episcopal Church. Photo Cred: Emmanual Episcopal Church

On August 12th, 2021 at the Michigan Energy Summit, the Emmanuel Episcopal Church of Hastings, MI was recognized by the Michigan Battle of the Buildings with the Solar Steward Award. Emmanuel Episcopal Church is well-deserving of this recognition, as a congregation who has demonstrated through no easy feat that the collective dedication and combined genius in their own arenas can bring tremendous reward to an old building in small-town Hastings, Michigan. 

Emmanuel Episcopal Church is old. Established October 17, 1863, during the time which President Abraham Lincoln was President, the church as it stands today consists of the original building additions dating 1891, 1954 and renovated in 2001.

Emmanuel’s story starts with the faithful desire to do better in good faith. Bob Schirmer, a congregant, jokes that “Well, if we’re really going back, this all started with us congregates getting tired of climbing ladders to change incandescent bulbs.” With eyes on the prize of installing solar panels on their rooftop, Emmanuel’s energy journey started with an energy audit walk-through with Occupant Care to identify ways to reduce energy consumption, an important first step to installing solar.  Occupant Care became a key project partner in Emmauel’s energy projects.

Their first energy conservation measures include LED lighting, complimentary smart thermostats provided by Consumers Energy, segregating the thermal conditioning of office spaces from the rest of the building, and other conservation measures. From energy efficiency measures alone, Emmanuel achieved an amazing 28% in electricity reduction and a 37% in natural gas reduction in a year-to-year comparison. In summation, the overall reduction in greenhouse gas emissions is 32% in energy efficiency upgrades alone. 

Diane Mills, President of Occupant Care says that she was, “astounded by the level of reduction in carbon footprint that the church was able to achieve by doing some measures that we would consider low hanging fruit and relatively easy to implement.” In reflection, she continues, “I think the message here is that sometimes doing things on blind faith because they are the right thing to do ends up having not only a really positive environmental impact but also a financial impact.”

Congregates at Emmanuel Episcopal Church were determined to reduce their carbon footprint through on-site solar energy generation. With continued consulting from Occupant Care, roof assessments from both a structural engineer and a roofing specialist led to  Solar Winds Power Systems installing a 20 kW solar array on the south-facing roof of the rectory. Through combined energy efficiencies and on-site solar generation, Emamuneul’s net carbon emissions have dropped 60% (pre-pandemic projections calculated a 50% decrease).  

What speaks to the community of Emmanuel is the teenagers’ enthusiastic involvement in seeing this solar project come to fruition. The youth routinely take the opportunity to elevate the congregation’s awareness of important issues during community coffee hour.  The successful fundraising is credited to their creativity in arranging for folks to sponsor a portion of a panel with the option for it to be dedicated to a loved one. 

Spilling over from the solar project, the church has replaced the gasoline-powered mower with a battery-powered lawnmower.  The church provides free level 1 charging for electric vehicles. For the future, the church plans to replace all fossil fuel-powered maintenance tools with electric batteries and is exploring carbon-free alternatives to natural gas, such as heat pumps.

A quote credited to a case study written in 2019 by Diane Mills with Occupant Care reads,

 “Stewardship of the Environment is an integral part of our understanding of Christian stewardship at Emmanuel,” shares the Reverend Linnea Stifler. “In our small way, by installing solar panels on our facility, we are reducing our dependence on fossil fuel, the source of the greenhouse gas emissions that are responsible for global warming.”