Congregations need help to go green, save green

Mary Walker

As a person of faith, caring for one another and our creator's earth is part of walking my faithful talk. As the executive director of Alaska Interfaith Power & Light, it is my responsibility to help others understand that one of the best ways to care for one another, including people you'll never meet, is to be good stewards of our environment: air, water, food and energy.

Energy efficiency is a great and easy way to connect caring for one another and our environment because it means less waste of precious fossil fuels, less air pollution and a few extra dollars in your pocket. There are many ways to become more energy efficient, and the REEL in Alaska Roadmap report of the Alaska Conservation Alliance is a helpful, Alaska-specific, one-stop resource for recommendations and opportunities to improve energy efficiency and lower utility bills.

Energy-efficiency recommendations are indeed very helpful, but we need to do more. The state's energy efficiency rebate program has started this process by helping homeowners implement improvements to their homes and, as a result, save thousands of dollars on utility bills each year. However, commercial building owners such as churches and synagogues (congregations), other nonprofits and businesses are also struggling to balance paying their utility bills while promoting their overall missions. Without an energy efficiency program for commercial owners, achieving energy efficiency goals beyond the home will not be easy or timely. This is especially true for congregations and other nonprofits that largely depend on donations to simply "keep the lights on" and cannot afford to make significant improvements or purchase newer energy-efficient appliances. For example, one Alaskan church spends on average $32,000 each year on fuel oil and $16,000 on electricity, which leaves them with little money to do much else.

For congregations, energy efficiency means living-up to our responsibility to be good stewards of our environment and spending less money on utility bills and more money on faithful services benefiting communities. As a testament to the faith community's desire to become energy efficient, in January 2011, 16 faith-based nonprofits applied to Alaska Energy Authority's commercial audit program, nearly 11 percent of total applicants! Faith-based organizations, which receive an audit through this program plus the handful of others who have already had an audit, will need a hand up to move from the efficiency recommendations outlined in an energy audit report to the critical next step: implementation.

Alaskans, Senate Bill 32 is here to help. SB32 would appropriate $10 million for an energy efficiency and alternative energy revolving loan fund, providing loans at premium rates for Alaska's congregations, other nonprofits and businesses. Providing the assistance necessary to upgrade commercial buildings will relieve some of the burden of high energy costs and allow Alaskan nonprofits and businesses to focus more on their missions, where it rightfully belongs, and less on expensive utility bills.

In addition, Alaskan businesses, nonprofits and especially the faith community have the potential to make a substantial contribution toward achieving the state's goal of a 15 percent increase in energy efficiency by 2020. To this end, SB32 will help all communities in The Great Land not just talk energy efficiency but walk energy efficiency, resulting in cleaner air, less waste of our energy resources and more money in our pocketbooks.

Mary Walker has worked in the environmental stewardship field for more than 19 years, with the last 10 years spent in Alaska. For four years she has served as the director of Alaska Interfaith Power & Light,