2019 Earth Day Feature: Williamsburg Unitarian Universalist
Williamsburg Unitarian Universalists have been committed to environmental justice since the congregation’s inception 30 years ago. WUU was certified as a “Green Sanctuary” in 2012. A building expansion in 2017 included renewable power, but unfortunately the construction budget left no room for a solar power system. In spring of 2018, momentum began building for adding this system. Initial goals were more modest: find a system that could supply half of the building’s power use.
A Solar Power Task Force found a way to make our funding go farther. The federal tax credits of up to 30% of solar power installations haven’t been available to not-for-profit and religious organizations, but new regulations in Virginia allow these organizations to sign Power Purchase Agreements with solar providers. Our agreement with Convert Solar has the company installing and owning the system for 10 years (and receiving the tax credits), after which time ownership transfers to us, thereby generating enough solar power to equal all of our annual needs at only 75% of the original cost.
In the fall, the congregation shifted into fundraising mode, and donations matched the excitement. Many members “sponsored a panel” with $500 donations, others became “IllUUminators” ($1000 or more) or even “Grand IllUUminators” ($5000 or more). People gave for many reasons: climate change, a legacy for our youngest members, or financial reasons. The congregation raised the needed funds in just a few months and was ready for installation.
In February Convert Solar installed a solar array of 120 panels, and in March Dominion installed a net meter. The panels are warrantied to last 25 years; saving more than a million pounds of carbon dioxide from being emitted.
Although the solar power project has been a major undertaking, it tapped into a deep reservoir of commitment to environmental justice at WUU. In this effort, we learned a clear lesson: never underestimate the depth of engagement a group of people can achieve when presented with a compelling opportunity to do right by our world.