The Journal Gazette
Wednesday, March 16, 2016 3:35 pm

Ministry's energy put to test by House bill

Brian Flory

Across our state, churches and communities have been embracing their right to generate electricity from God’s free sunshine through rooftop solar panels or small-scale wind.

The Beacon Heights Church of Brethren, where I serve as pastor, is taking such steps toward energy efficiency and clean, renewable energy. Last year, in keeping with our belief that we are called to be good stewards of God’s creation, our congregation launched a creation care capital campaign called "Eco-Beacon," part of which included raising money to install solar panels on our church roof. By the end of 2014, we had raised enough money for the solar panels – and by the end of 2015, we plan to install them.

We are a congregation that is very committed to the betterment of the community. With the savings from our energy use, we hope to expand our ministries to the broader Fort Wayne area, which include ministries such as a weekly food bank, a preschool program, a partnership with a local homeless program and community peace networks, and a small-group ministry.

It has been enlivening for our leadership to work at envisioning what the coming years will look like for our congregation and how we can devote the additional energy savings to serving the ministry needs we observe in our community.

The project will be partially funded by a grant from Hoosier Interfaith Power & Light’s Seventh Day Initiative, which is disbursing funds from a legal settlement involving pollution control violations by the parent company of Indiana & Michigan Power.

It’s fitting that these settlement funds are being disbursed to local solar projects in Fort Wayne, South Bend, Muncie and other communities in the I&M territory.

I&M President Paul Chodak III recently wrote about his company’s commitment to renewable energy.

That’s why I am surprised and saddened to learn about Indiana House Bill 1320, a bill supported by I&M and other Indiana electric utilities that would restrict the freedom and liberty of individual ratepayers to choose how we power our homes, businesses, schools, and churches.

If passed in its current form, HB 1320, sponsored by Rep. Eric Koch, R-Bedford, would make rooftop solar more expensive for us and would stifle the growth of homegrown clean energy solutions like rooftop solar for all Hoosiers – unless you are an electric utility or large business.

In short, this bill punishes congregations like ours for good and faithful behavior that benefits the whole community. It impinges upon our religious liberty by introducing economic uncertainty into the expression of our ministry and faith values.

Hoosiers from all walks of life should have the right to choose clean-energy solutions like rooftop solar while getting fair credit from their electric utility for the power they produce. A rooftop in Fort Wayne is no different than a rooftop in Evansville, and Hoosiers in all Indiana communities should have equal access to energy choices through rooftop solar or small-scale wind energy.

Please contact your state legislators and urge them to stand up for energy freedom and homegrown rooftop solar by voting no on HB 1320.

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