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St. Andrew's Presbyterian Church raising money to swap fossil fuels for solar panels

PMG PHOTO: COURTNEY VAUGHN - St. Andrew's Presbyterian Church is undergoing a green energy conversion, raising money to install solar panels on the church's roof to cut its reliance on fossil fuels.The Pacific Northwest is defined by its signature gray days and rain, but a church in Hillsdale aims to draw about 40% of its energy from the sun.

St. Andrew's Presbyterian Church on Southwest Sunset Boulevard has raised 85% of the money needed to install solar panels on a new roof covering the church's sanctuary. The photovoltaic panels are slated to be installed later this spring.

Amy Houchen has been patiently waiting for the energy upgrade to take shape for years now.

"I started looking at it about three or four years ago," Houchen said of installing solar panels at the church. Houchen, a congregation member and volunteer, said the building's roof was too old to support solar panels.

"This year, they decided it was time to re-roof the sanctuary, so putting them on a new roof, this was the time to do it," Houchen said. "I worked with a couple other people on the (church's) governing body and we decided to do it."

PMG PHOTO: COURTNEY VAUGHN - Rev. Sarah Sanderson-Doughty, pastor at St. Andrews Presbyterian Church in Hillsdale, tours the churchs sanctuary, which will soon be covered with solar panels.As much as churches are steeped in traditions of the past, the congregation at St. Andrew's is equally forward-thinking. The church boasts inclusivity and humanitarian aid, while embarking on social justice education. Its leadership and members say they want to help reverse the damaging effects of climate change, for the sake of future generations.

Currently, St. Andrew's pays about $1,300 a month in electricity bills. Rev. Sarah Sanderson-Doughty, pastor at St. Andrew's, climbs a flight of narrow stairs to a balcony overlooking the church sanctuary, where worship services are held each Sunday. The sanctuary boasts tall ceilings with exposed buttresses, flanked by half panels of stained glass windows sitting above exposed brick. The building also houses church offices, a social hall and classrooms. Sanderson-Doughty said the church hopes to be carbon-neutral in the future, and solar power will pave the way.

The congregation expects solar energy to power about 40% of the church's electrical needs. Converting a portion of the church to green energy will cost an estimated $94,000 and require 120 panels to be placed on the roof.

St. Andrew's was able to secure a grant to cover about 18% of the cost, and will use a co-op model, energy tax credits and donations to pay for the rest. The co-op model means the project is being funded by donations and member investors – people who buy in and get paid back with interest.

"Anyone in Oregon can invest $1,000 or more in one of our solar projects, and get paid back in annual payments, usually over 10 or 12 years," said Dan Orzech, general manager of Oregon Clean Power Cooperative. The cooperative is working with St. Andrew's to get its solar project up and running.

Nonprofit groups like the church, which doesn't pay taxes, can't directly utilize the energy tax credits, but it can transfer or sell them.

To date, the church has received most of the money needed for the project with the help of roughly two dozen donors.

Jeanette Kloos is one of those donors.

"I'm an environmentalist from way back. I have a master's (degree) in urban and environmental studies," said Kloos, a member of St. Andrew's who also helps out with grounds keeping and facilities, planting native plants on site. "I dreamed of having a passive solar house 30 years ago. Never got anything done. I ended up with a house surrounded by forest. I tried to get solar once and they said, 'sorry you don't have enough sun to get solar.'"

Kloos said she wasn't able to put solar on her own home, but she was happy to help her church reach its renewable energy goal.

The solar addition is part of what the church calls "creation care," a program guided by the notion that Christians have a duty to care for the community and planet.

"In general, we have a responsibility to be responsible stewards of this world that we believe that God has created," said Rev. Sanderson-Doughty. "We are very aware that our planet is in peril. We have a commitment as a part of the vision of this congregation to become carbon neutral, to be making steady steps to rely on more sustainable forms of energy, and also to be bearing witness to the wider community, to the importance of taking action like that. So part of our work as people of faith is to model greater responsibility and care for neighbor."

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