"You have served your duty, but your time is up. . . . We say goodbye to your consumption of the earth's precious contents. We say 'no more' to what you represent," intoned the Rev. Kate Walker as she and 50 people symbolically declared the "death" of the Mount Vernon Unitarian Church's (MVUC) fossil-fuel-dependent heating and cooling system yesterday, the day of the winter solstice.
Then they ceremonially broke ground for their new, sustainable energy system.
Over the next five months, the church will convert to a solar-geothermal system in hopes of going off the electricity grid. Shenandoah Sustainable Technologies (SST) of Harrisonburg, Virginia, will install, operate and maintain the new system for MVUC's 5,200-square-foot Meeting House.
Geothermal energy technology uses underground fluid-circulating pipes that tap into the constant temperatures below the earth's surface, around 55 to 60 degrees Fahrenheit in the Mount Vernon area. Solar panels on the south roof of the Meeting House will provide electricity for the building and parking lot lights. Extra energy will be sent back to the power grid and energy will be drawn from the grid when solar energy is not generated. They expect their overall draw from the grid to be zero, the first net-zero church in Virginia.
Congressman Jim Moran said that the "Mount Vernon community is putting its money where its mouth is" and that the new system will be a "national symbol of faith-based leadership."
Calling it an "extraordinary project," Board of Trustees' Chair Joan Darrah said that people of faith should respect the "web of all existence."
She applauded Mount Vernonites Ron Brandt of Wellington Heights and Ken Pilkenton, Tauxemont, who "worked tirelessly" to bring the technology to the church. Albert Weinstein presented a $10,000 check to, as he described it, "jumpstart the project."
Walker listed the church's many "green" features, from its wildlife habitat designation to composting biodegradable leftover food from events. Church members voted several years ago to be "green," she said. "Like so many institutions, we sometimes resemble Congress without C-Span," she chuckled, but the decision to transition to clean energy did not require a lengthy debate, she reported. "We just did it because we believe in our principles," she stressed.
Senator Toddy Puller (D-36), who lives nearby, described her long ties to the church and commended MVUC members' "progressive outlook." Chris Bea, legislative aide, represented Delegate Scott Surovell.