South Charlotte

Myers Park Baptist shines light on solar

It was a brisk fall afternoon under blue skies and sunshine when Bob Thomason and Kate Green showed off 20 solar panels recently placed atop the roof of the Cornwell Center at Myers Park Baptist Church.

The panels are part of a new solar-electric system the EarthKeepers, an environmental group made up of church members who encourage the connection between spirituality and ecology, helped bring about to produce a portion of the church's electricity.

Thomason, who's had solar panels at his residence for years, says he wrote the grant when the application was made to the state for money to buy the church's system.

The price was a little more than $37,000, but it cost Myers Park Baptist nothing; half the funds came from a N.C. Energy Office grant award and half from the EarthKeepers and other church donors, according to Thomason.

Though it wasn't a requirement for receiving the grant, Thomason said, the church specified it wanted panels manufactured in the United States.

Argand Energy Solutions designed and installed the system. There are five sections of four panels each, mounted on racks and weighted at their bases with flat concrete bricks so the church could avoid drilling into the roof.

The system is solar photovoltaic, directly converting sunlight to electricity, said Thomason. The life of the system is expected to be at least 25 years and should help reduce the church's energy bill.

But to the EarthKeepers, the project is about more than dollars and cents.

Green, 65, says having the system is in keeping with the church's progressive stance on a variety of issues.

Thomason, 58, cites environmental and health reasons for pursuing solar energy. It's important to make a statement "that we think this is the direction we need to head in terms of energy. We need to use less, and we need to get it from more sustainable sources," he said.

The effort doesn't end with the panels. Another component involves putting a programmable, real-time display screen in the Cornwell Center lobby indicating the panels' output. Plans also call for energy-related workshops to be held in a classroom at the center.

Promoting renewable energy isn't the EarthKeepers' only activity. Members maintain a recycling program for batteries and other materials. They also raise awareness of environmental causes with special Earth Day worship services, and they hope to establish a community garden.

Green, who heads EarthKeepers, says there are about 10 core members of the organization at the church but more than 80 interested people on a mailing list. The EarthKeepers group "has really brought an awareness of sustainability to the congregation and really forged a commitment to being good stewards of the environment," said Green.

In addition to her local activities, Green also participates in GreenFaith Fellowship, a comprehensive nationwide program that trains members from diverse religious traditions to become environmental leaders.