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Record-Breaking Heat a Positive for Some NC Places of Worship

PHOTO: As they work to keep their congregations closer to a higher power, more and more North Carolina places of worship are turning to solar power to save money on electricity bills.
PHOTO: As they work to keep their congregations closer to a higher power, more and more North Carolina places of worship are turning to solar power to save money on electricity bills.
July 3, 2012

ASHEVILLE, N.C. - The record-breaking heat experienced around North Carolina in recent days actually has a silver lining for some of the state's places of worship. A handful are now using solar panels to sell back energy to the electric grid, and many others are considering such a move.

The First Congregational United Church of Christ in Asheville is one example. Initial revenue will go towards paying for the cost of the panels, but in five years, Reverend Joe Hoffman predicts, the solar energy will pay for half of the church's annual electric bill.

"It goes back to just the simple respect of the creator who created us. As long as we, as human beings, are taking more than anyone else, then we're hurting all living creatures."

Hoffman's church chose to install the solar panels in March of 2011 after completing an energy audit, similar to those provided for free by North Carolina Interfaith Power and Light. The organization helps places of faith initiate green projects.

Because of the panels, in the first year the Asheville church avoided the use of 14,000 pounds of coal which would have been burned to generate its power, and produced more than 13,000 kilowatt-hours of electricity.

Temple Emanuel in Greensboro installed solar panels on the roof last fall. The proceeds will help offset the electricity expenses for the temple. The panels were paid for completely by donations from members of the congregation, who will also receive additional tax benefits for making their donations for a solar project.

Annette Green served on the committee to install the panels, and sees doing so as an example for others.

"The temple did not need to put out a single penny of their own money. We just want other people to understand that almost any congregation could probably do this."

North Carolina Interfaith Power and Light also performed an energy audit for the temple, and helped them find resources to complete the project. NCIPL says the energy audits can also be used to help relieve the utility burden on some low-income congregations.

So far, organizer Allison Scherberger with NCIPL says, they've completed 97 energy audits with North Carolina congregations. She says the audits provide a great place to start.

"It gives them concrete ways that they can live out what their faith really calls them to do. Regardless of what someone's faith tradition is, all faiths encourage people to live gently on the earth."

Reporting for this story by North Carolina News Connection in association with Media in the Public Interest. Media in the Public Interest is funded in part by Z. Smith Reynolds Foundation.

Stephanie Carson/Stephanie Carroll Carson, Public News Service - NC