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on September 15, 2018

Eco-churches are coming to Richmond. True Fellowship Baptist Church in Shields-Reid announced this week that it is planning to become the first congregation in Richmond to rely only on solar energy.

“This is just the beginning,” said David Green, True Fellowship Deacon. Green said the church ultimately hopes to be certified as a green building through the national Leadership in Energy and Environmental Design program.

The church launched an online crowdfunding campaign on Wednesday with the help of RE-volv, a nonprofit that helps Bay Area organizations shift to solar energy. The campaign goal is to raise $8500 to cover the installation cost for eight solar panels on the church’s roof. The panels were donated by Shangai-based manufacturer Jinko Solar. By the end of Wednesday, the church had raised $3100.

“I think we’ll be able to cut the red ribbon in less than six weeks,” said RE-volv Executive Director Andreas Karelas.

This is RE-volv’s sixteenth solar project, and fourth faith-based project, since its founding in 2011. Less than a year ago, Faith Baptist Church became the first church in East Oakland to be fully solar-powered. Reverend Curtis Robinson, the congregation’s pastor, said the church’s energy bill went down by more than half after the panels were installed.

Karelas said the panels planned for True Fellowship Baptist Church could save the church $15,000 over the system’s 25-year lifespan. Deacon Green said the savings will support the church’s scholarship fund, diabetes workshops, and monthly food and clothes giveaways.

Karelas said that True Fellowship’s 2.44 kW system should offset 146,000 pounds of the greenhouse gas carbon dioxide, which contributes to global warming. The effect will be equivalent to planting 63 acres of trees “right next to an oil giant,” he said, referring to Richmond’s Chevron refinery.

A 2012 explosion at the refinery sent 15,000 residents to nearby medical centers. True Fellowship is located less than one mile from the refinery.

Panels on a church that close to the refinery “will be a powerful image,” said Pastor Robinson.

Karelas said that religious organizations are increasingly eager to go green, but many lack the means to take action because small nonprofits do not attract large solar companies. Jinko Solar, the manufacturer providing the solar panels for True Fellowship, is one of a handful to have a donation program for small organizations, said Karelas.

The problem was the subject of an official side event of the 2018 Global Climate Action Summit this week. On Wednesday and Thursday, Multi-faith Workshops, a series of panels and conferences held at Grace Cathedral, gathered congregations from all faiths to share ideas and resources and commit to slowing down climate change. Interfaith Power & Light, a nationwide network of faith-based communities and RE-volv partner, helped coordinate the workshops.

To date, more than 250 Bay Area congregations have made “green” commitments ranging from becoming carbon neutral to growing community gardens to shifting to solar energy, said Liore Milgrom-Gartner, program manager at Interfaith Power & Light.

“These efforts come from a moral place and cross political boundaries,” Milgrom-Gartner said. “Climate change has no religious affiliation.”

Deacon Green said he hopes that his church’s solar project will inspire others in the community to switch to clean energy. “True Fellowship Baptist Church will show that it’s possible for the community of Richmond to go solar,” he said. “We’re ready.”

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