Church’s solar panels spare planet, earn cash

Published June 29, 2012

The 10 solar roof panels at All Saints, Collingwood, supply its neighbours with power and earn about $10,000 a year. Photo: Kathi Gilbert

The Rev. Cathy Miller has a passion for green and for the Marks of Mission, especially the fifth mark, to safeguard the integrity of creation and renew the life of the earth. The two come happily together in the Green Team, an initiative led by Miller, associate priest at 160-year-old All Saints’ Anglican Church in Collingwood, Ont., a skiing and resort town near Georgian Bay.

“A few years ago, we were bumping along with a couple of us interested in greening the church,” says Miller. “We talked about solar panels as a pipe dream in the distant future.” Luckily, the green campaign was galvanized by the arrival of two new parishioners, Rob and Sara Wilkinson, who were committed to greening All Saints quickly. The effort was further galvanized when Sara died unexpectedly of cancer this past January. “At her funeral people donated money and gave us the push we needed,” says Miller.

In the process of reroofing All Saints the previous summer, the group had providently applied to the local power authority, which issued them a contract. If they could install the panels, they would receive payment for the energy they produced under Ontario’s microFit program.

The panel project received another prodding when, on March 22, the Ontario government informed them that they would have to complete the work by May 18 in order to capitalize on their existing contract. “As you know, the church doesn’t move very fast,” says Miller, who was suddenly faced with getting heritage and other permits very quickly. “Fortunately, our incumbent priest, Heather Gwynne-Timothy, was very supportive and caring.”

When it seemed that the slow-moving diocesan process was not going to be much help in pushing the project through in time for the deadline, the wardens of All Saints stepped in. They contacted Bishop George Elliot to help make it happen at the diocesan office and he did. “The Green Team is grateful to the wardens who took this on and to the Bishop for agreeing to champion it at the diocesan office, ” Miller says.

Now, in addition to supplying immediate power to surrounding neighbours with minimal loss of power in the lines, All Saints will also earn about $1,000 a month 10 months a year for the power it supplies to the grid. That will help ease its own annual electricity bill of $20,000, and soon offset the $47,000 it cost to install the panels. Such renewable-energy projects are also expected to create technology and maintenance jobs.

“This is about caring for creation and respecting the earth that God gave us a gift,” says Miller. “This is a win-win situation for churches. I’d like to see dioceses across the country set up processes to make it easy for churches to do this.” At present, there are obstacles at every turn. “You can’t borrow money to install them and you can’t put up property as collateral,” she says. “But this should not be treated as a regular loan because it makes money for the church.”

Beyond the panels, All Saints has had an energy audit whose recommendations are being implemented by church members. “We are working toward zero waste, so that groups who rent the church must take away any garbage that is not recyclable or compostable, “Miller says. “And our snacks at church functions are organic and made from local fare.”

This fall, All Saints will also welcome the Otesha Project, a group of young cyclists visiting Ontario cities from Kitchener to Ottawa and performing a 40-minute play about the environment, sustainability and social justice. Parishioners will accommodate them in their homes.


  • Diana Swift

    Diana Swift is an award-winning writer and editor with 30 years’ experience in newspaper and magazine editing and production. In January 2011, she joined the Anglican Journal as a contributing editor.

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