Congregational Church on Mercer Island has new solar panels, which they recently celebrated earlier this month. The church is also hosting a series of events and activities to inspire Islanders to take action against climate change.
At the launch event, there was a ribbon-cutting ceremony and church staff switched on the solar panels for the first time. Mayor Debbie Bertlin and council member Wendy Weiker were present.
Since then, pastor Roberta Rominger said she can’t stop looking at the app on her phone that shows the current readings for the amount of electricity being generated by the panels.
“I don’t know why I’ve been so excited. I’m on the app all the time watching the electricity crank up,” she said. “I think they look fantastic on the church, too. They just look like hope.”
The church has been in the process of permitting and installation for the building’s 15 kilowatt array, on the south-facing side of its roof, for about a year.
Rominger, who has been pastor at the church for four and a half years, said the launch event also featured music — including singing their own words to “You Are My Sunshine” — and sunshine cookies.
The new panels are just one way the church continues to decrease its carbon footprint and actively inspire the community to care for the environment. They also host a series of events, led by the church’s climate action team. These events are free and open to anyone.
“Climate is really important to us,” Rominger said.
On Oct. 26, they will have an event called From Active Hope to Embodied Hope, which she said aims to inspire, motivate and create hope.
“There are strong emotions associated with the climate crisis, like grief, fear, anxiety, guilt and hopelessness,” she said. “It’s (this event is) about mustering spiritual resources to keep us hopeful and involved for a greater future.”
Then on Nov. 2 they will host a concert – by donation – called The Alaska Suite, which is a multimedia program that will feature a jazz quintet and poetry to celebrate the Alaskan wilderness.
“It talks about the threat but it ends on a hopeful note,” Rominger said. “I’m really looking forward to that one.”
The church also previously partnered with the community for global climate strike day Sept. 20. They organized sign making and sign waving on the Island.
Rominger said they always work to invite the community in and to engage with Island residents. They have a large reader board that they frequently update with messages.
Rominger said that the system installed on the church is not as big as they had originally been hoping for, but they are still happy. They also did not qualify for a state incentive for residential solar installations because they are a public building.
Part of the process of meeting the proper codes and requirements included a structural engineering inspection of the roof. Rominger said that while buildings are typically designed with a roof strong enough for heavy snowfall, not all of them are strong enough to support solar panels.
Only a limited section of the church’s roof was deemed strong enough, and fire regulation required them not to put panels within 10 feet of the edges of the roof, she said. So, they ended up with a smaller system, paying more for higher quality panels on less of the roof.
“It’s just the right thing to do,” she said. “We’re really committed to making that happen.”
Rominger said that the panels are currently covering about two thirds of the church’s electricity needs, and they are still working on further efforts to cut down their carbon footprint.
She feels strongly that community efforts to fight climate change should be a priority.
“Nothing we’re facing is more important than this,” she said. “It’s utterly urgent.”
“The two things that give you hope are getting involved and doing it with other people. We’d welcome anyone who wants to roll up their sleeves and get involved with us. We really hope we can make a difference.”
Rominger said she has been so excited and loves keeping track of the panels’ activity.
She said the church’s solar panels were partly inspired by the city’s efforts to encourage climate action and solar panel installations on the Island. The city has led two different residential solar installation campaigns, one in 2014 and 2018.
According to the city’s weekly newsletter, the city of Mercer Island has about 200 commercial and residential solar installations that altogether have a total generating capacity of 1660 kilowatts. This includes two systems on top of local schools, according to the city’s website.
Overall, the goal is to reduce greenhouse gas emissions on the Island and increase clean energy. The city has a 2050 goal from 2007 to reduce emissions by 80 percent below the levels recorded in 2005.
A calendar of events held by Congregational Church can be found on the church’s website (https://www.ucc-ccmi.org/community-events), and more information about solar power on Mercer Island can be found on the city’s website. (http://www.mercergov.org/Page.asp?NavID=2972)