September 19, 2010
By Meir Rinde
TRENTON -- From the roof of Shiloh Baptist Church, the Rev. Darrell Armstrong has a great view. He sees not only the surrounding Canal Banks neighborhood and the tops of the city's tallest buildings, but also some 180 brand-spanking-new solar panels, soaking up the sun and sending pollution-free power back down into his church.
The 37.8-kilowatt solar installation is a financially prudent choice for the church, and part of its ongoing effort to act on biblical instructions to take care of the environment, Armstrong said. The system was dedicated at a Sunday worship service two weeks ago.
"We are trying, with other organizations, to give a very clear and definitive message about what it means to create health in our environment, health in our bodies, health in our spirits, health in our souls," he said last week after a trip to the roof to show off the panels.
Armstrong said he believes the solar installation is the first on a house of worship in Trenton, though he was quick to recognize the pioneering efforts of Grace Cathedral Fellowship Ministries, which is located on the city border in Ewing. Grace installed solar panels last year.
Grace's Bishop Jerome Wilcox and the Rev. Dan Whitener of Abiding Presence Lutheran Church "freely shared their wisdom, knowledge, advice and counsel in this highly involved process, for which I am very thankful," he said. St. Mark Lutheran Church in Hamilton also offered advice.
Another helpful adviser was GreenFaith, a nonprofit organization that promotes environmental action among religious institutions of all faiths. The New Brunswick organization was formerly located in Trenton.
Its executive director, the Rev. Fletcher Harper, said he was particularly pleased by Shiloh's work to improve its urban environment.
"Shiloh has been an influential leader in the African-American community for generations," Harper said. "The fact they are making this commitment to renewable energy makes a very important statement in itself on a symbolic level."
Solar power is an important alternative energy source because it does not cause pollution, he said. The burning of coal to create electricity sends fine particulate matter into the air, causing respiratory problems, and contributes to climate change.
"That's particularly true in urban settings, where air pollution levels are much higher and climate change effects are more severe," Harper said. "You see an increase in heat-related stress and illness, which often has a greater impact than in suburban or rural communities."
Armstrong said the congregation began discussing the possibility of a solar installation five years ago. Eventually the church signed up with the Bureau of Public Utilities' CORE program, which provided nonprofit organizations with solar subsidies.
Shiloh is slated to receive a $139,910 rebate on the project's cost of about $230,000, according to Armstrong and the BPU. Fundraising is expected to provide another $101,000.
In the coming months, the church will benefit from a sale of renewable energy credits, which utilities such as PSE&G buy to meet requirements that they generate alternative energy. Shiloh also expects to stop having to pay for electricity.
Lower utility bills and the sale of renewable energy credits should together quickly add another $100,000 to Shiloh's bottom line, Armstrong said.
"It's a great investment for the church. We're anticipating a return on our investment within a year," he said.
The panels are also an investment in God's Earth and scriptural calls for environmental stewardship, Armstrong said.
He cited Psalm 24:1, "The earth is the Lord's and the fullness thereof, the world and those who dwell therein," and Genesis 2:15, "Then the Lord God took man and put him in the garden of Eden to tend and keep it."
With the recent Gulf oil spill on his mind, Armstrong dedicated a series of sermons in recent weeks to environmental issues, he said. They concluded with the dedication of the solar panels Sept. 5.
"Man has not "tended' to God's "garden' very well," he wrote in a letter announcing the solar installation. "Humanity must be better caretakers of the natural environment."