Over the years, energy costs have steadily risen. The climb has been so steep that many churches and houses of worship, feeling the squeeze, have been forced to redirect dollars set aside for their programs to paying monthly utility bills. With utility deregulation, however, faith-based and non-profit organizations have a choice in deciding who will provide their energy. This choice creates an opportunity for institutions to leverage their collective purchasing power to chip away at energy costs – even the price of clean energy.
Utility bills of faith institutions, even those with smaller memberships of fewer than 200, can easily run into the thousands of dollars each month. Many churches and synagogues have cavernous spaces, including large meeting rooms and multi-purpose buildings that are often open day and night. For example, here at First Trinity Lutheran, we provide 40 units of transitional housing for homeless families and pay the utilities for those units. We also have a non-profit restaurant called “New Course Restaurant & Catering” that trains low-income and homeless people to become chefs and chef assistants in restaurants, which consumes a substantial amount of energy.
Getting a handle on these energy expenditures, as well as being good stewards of the world in which we live have become priorities of almost every church and synagogue.
Earlier this year, 11 institutions, mostly congregations, collaborated to spearhead a competitive bidding process for purchasing electricity at a volume discount rate. To drive down costs, this diverse group bargained directly with energy suppliers with the help of Washington Interfaith Network, a community organizing organization, and WeatherizeDC, a non-profit program that grows interest in energy efficiency and creates clean energy jobs for local residents from underrepresented or historically disadvantaged communities.
Each participating institution saved in the range of a few thousand dollars to $33,000 per year. This month, the pool of participating institutions expanded. Approximately 33 faith-based institutions again are accepting bids from electricity suppliers. We are hopeful that the rates we receive for 2012 will be even lower then last year. A new feature included in this round of energy purchasing is the goal of offering a residential discount rate for electricity to the individual parishioners and members.
Institutions that generally don’t collaborate are now engaged in ways never before dreamed possible, and the benefits are numerous. First, the money saved can go back into each institution’s core mission. Second, as part of the organizing process, faith-based institutions are learning more about each other and become more aware of the special community services each organization offers to the greater Washington, D.C. area. Third, in partnership with WeatherizeDC, we are exploring avenues for conserving energy and consuming energy more efficiently.
The sky could be the limit. Looking into the future, the group is planning to solicit bids for natural gas, and is exploring other types of services, such as trash collection and office supplies, like paper, that could be purchased at volume discount rates. There is even talk of organizing a non-profit co-op among the churches and synagogues whose mission would be to pursue cost-savings of all kinds for their institutional members. We can then channel those dollars saved into doing what we do best: serving our communities.
The Rev. Thomas Knoll is a pastor at First Trinity Lutheran Church in Washington, D.C.
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