WASHINGTON (BP)–Three of the four churches honored this year by the U.S. Environmental Protection Agency with the prestigious Energy Star Congregation Award are Southern Baptist.
First Baptist Church in Dallas, First Baptist Church in Springdale, Ark., and Idlewild Baptist Church in Lutz, Fla., each earned recognition for their efforts at reducing energy consumption.
“I think our story is best told by the numbers,” Gary James, energy education manager at FBC Dallas, said. “We were spending close to $1.4 million for utilities before our program began. For 2009, we project that will be down to about $1 million. In just the first 10 months of our program, we managed to save close to $400,000. The amount should grow to $450,000 when we reach a full 12 months.”
The church’s 1 million square feet campus includes First Baptist Academy, a K-12 school with about 600 students. In late 2007, the leaders at First Baptist Dallas became increasingly concerned with the utility budget and steadily rising utility rates, according to an Energy Star news release.
“With a church our size, we should be at the forefront of demonstrating energy efficient, green solutions,” James said. “We need to show leadership that other churches and our members can follow. That’s why we view our program as being about energy stewardship, and not just energy conservation.”
First Baptist partnered with Energy Education, a Dallas-based consulting firm that assists with routine energy audits, changes in equipment usage patterns, uncovering billing errors and metering inconsistencies, and analyzing data.
The church created the position of energy educator manager, an in-house expert and liaison between the church and Energy Education. They examined everything on the church’s campus that uses energy or utilities, including electricity, natural gas, irrigation, water and sewer, and made plans for how to use the resources as efficiently as possible.
“We also have a number of Energy Star-qualified products throughout the facility such as appliances, light fixtures, televisions and office equipment,” James said. “Looking for the Energy Star label is part of our purchasing philosophy.”
Energy Star said the savings of nearly 6.5 million kilowatt hours per year at First Baptist Dallas represents a reduction in greenhouse gas emissions (CO2) equivalent to the electricity use of nearly 648 homes.
“With $450,000 in savings anticipated in our first year, this represents funds that can be redirected to and contribute to the church’s ability to better serve our members and our community,” James said.
First Baptist Church in Springdale and its Shiloh Christian School saved nearly $250,000 without any major overhaul or replacement of equipment just 14 months after implementing an energy saving program.
“The most significant things we did were to monitor our usage patterns and become aware of how to better use energy, and train both staff and members on how they could contribute to our energy savings effort,” said James Maxwell, energy manager at First Baptist Springdale. “Our energy saving program so far is based mainly on awareness and attention to details.”
First Baptist Springdale also partnered with Energy Education for help with the 330,000-square-foot main campus and a second campus in Rogers, Ark.
“Part of our challenge was implementing a program in a 32-year-old building with numerous construction add-ons and remodels, including three different types of HVAC systems,” Maxwell said of the main campus, which accommodates about 6,000 regular attendees in the worship center.
Maxwell said an energy program is more like a marathon than a sprint because it takes time to educate people about what needs to be done and build a consensus around the goal. First Baptist Springdale already had some Energy Star-qualified equipment and appliances before it began the program, but now they make a point to purchase such products.
“Primarily, we’ve taken a common sense approach and we’ve examined every point of energy consumption,” Maxwell said, explaining that approach has meant switching off lights when not in use, turning off computers when leaving for the day, and paying close attention to thermostat settings, particularly Monday through Saturday.
“The thermostat setting during Sunday morning worship services remained unchanged,” said Ben Mayes, the church’s executive leader of finance. “The thermostat during the rest of the week was tweaked a bit, and significantly so at night when no one is there. But everyone has remained comfortable.”
Instead of a lighting overhaul, the church replaces an incandescent light with a compact fluorescent lamp when the light burns out.
Mayes said the church has saved more than $200,000 in energy costs, which is money that is available to spend elsewhere, such as missions.
“I think, biblically, you’re called to be good stewards of what God blesses you with, and I think that’s the underlying reason why you do it. This has helped us focus on being good stewards,” Mayes said in the news release. “It’s a great program and so far we’ve enjoyed it.”
At Idlewild Baptist Church, the 440,000-square-foot facility was designed with energy efficiency in mind when it opened in 2005, Energy Star noted. Two of the considerations included opting for tinted windows and a light-colored roof to reduce solar heat load.
The church selected Energy Star-qualified appliances as well as higher efficiency water fixtures, chillers and lighting fixtures. Occupancy sensors were installed in most rooms to control the electrical loads, and a well was drilled outside for use in landscape irrigation and a chiller water tower.
Immediately the church began benchmarking its energy use, and quarterly meetings are held with utility providers to understand load profiles and usage. Idlewild also partners with Siemens Building Technologies, which sends a specialist one day a week to help the church maintain a focus on energy reduction.
One of the major steps the church took was to upgrade the lighting system so that each classroom and area of the building could be controlled individually. Also, a Siemens automation system is used to heat, cool, ventilate and light rooms according to a schedule based on daily activities.
Using Portfolio Manager, a free online tool from the EPA’s Energy Star program, Idlewild has been able to track its energy reduction progress. Using 2006 as a baseline, the tool showed a 15 percent reduction in 2008 electrical consumption. The first half of 2009 showed a 26 percent energy reduction compared to 2006.
Another significant part of the church’s effort has been to use free Energy Star posters and other materials throughout the facility to remind staff and volunteers of the importance of energy management. Newsletter articles keep the congregation informed and offer tips for practicing energy stewardship at home and in the workplace.
“We’ve been able to save enough to keep up with technologies that enable even greater savings,” Tony Pasley, director of facilities at Idlewild, said. “Plus, there is money that can be redirected to increased outreach and ministry programs. We’ll continue to pursue energy reduction wherever we can without curtailing activities or programs.”
Prestonwood Baptist Church in Plano, Texas, was a 2007 recipient of an Energy Star Congregation Award.
Erin Roach is staff writer for Baptist Press. For more information, visit energystar.gov.