An Update on the Net Zero Project

In 2019 the Green Sanctuary Committee spawned a project aimed at getting People’s Church to net zero carbon emissions by the year 2030.  Since that time a lot has been done towards the goal, and a lot still remains if we are to achieve it.  Here’s the status.

After an energy audit by Consumer’s Energy in 2017, the Building and Grounds crew began replacing lighting throughout the church with LED bulbs.  As of now, most of our lighting, with a few exceptions such as the stage lighting, consists of this high efficiency alternative.  Also, some switches have been replaced with motion detectors to reduce their “on” time.

Solar Panels
In the summer of 2019 we learned through our affiliation with Hope for Creation of an opportunity to install a solar photovoltaic array on the roof of the church addition with no upfront cost to the church.  The system was put in place with support from the Finance Committee and the Board in the spring of 2020, and began producing electricity on June 2, 2020.  In the first year of operation we produced more than 40% of an equivalent, pre-pandemic period electric usage with the sun’s energy.

Efficiency Improvements to the Heating System
In late 2019 we began making low-cost upgrades to the hot water boiler and heat distribution system in the original building. These improvements included insulating the water distribution pipes and upgrading the distribution pumps.  Because the church has been left mostly unused since March 2020, it is hard to know for sure how much difference these changes have made in our gas and electric usage, but for the short time after they were put in place and before the shutdown we were able to see a measurable reduction in our utilities consumption.  The Net Zero Task Force has found a few other energy wasting items that have been corrected as well.

Insulation Upgrades
The team consulted with experts, researched possibilities, performed calculations, and tested options in two rooms of the church.  The conclusion was that the mostly uninsulated walls and windows offered the best possibility for a good return on investment.  So, in April 2021, with the volunteer labor of the Building and Grounds team, they began the process of adding furring strips—two layers of rigid insulation panels and drywall to the inside of selected walls.  The new walls have an R-value of about 23¼ vs. the old walls with an R-value of 3¼!  We calculate that this will save the church about $3-4 per year for each linear foot of wall insulated.  So far the team has completed insulating rooms #2, #4, #5, #8, and #10.  We hope to complete five or six more rooms this fiscal year.

Electric Vehicle Charging Stations
As a result of our affiliations with the Kalamazoo Climate Crisis Coalition and Hope for Creation, we learned of a grant opportunity from Consumer’s Energy to install 2 EV charging stations on the church grounds.  We applied and were awarded the last of these grants in June, and the chargers are now installed and operational in the back parking lot.  We think this will serve as a stimulus to our congregation to look at EVs for their personal transportation, and as a model for the community to help move us toward a lower carbon future.  We partnered with the Kalamazoo Electric Vehicle Association to hold an EV Car Show at the church at the end of July.

The Future
The wall and window insulation will take until 2023-24 to complete.  We will be able to gradually convert the heating source to mini-split heat pumps whenever all the rooms on a complete loop of the hot water system are insulated (there are 4 such loops serving the original portion of our building).  Adding more insulation to the roofs will be phased in as they reach the point of needing to be re-surfaced.  We hope to be able to install metal roofing also as this happens, as a preliminary step to adding more solar panels in the future.  The hot water, gas-fired boiler will be phased out when heat pumps have been installed for all the original building.  And when the heating/cooling system for the addition nears the end of its life, the plan is to replace it with an all-electric alternative.  At that point the church will be free of direct burning of fossil fuels.

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