Aerial drone photo by George Mange

By Kirk Petersen

As a drone hovered overhead capturing aerial pictures, the Bishop of Alabama dipped a handful of rosemary and other greens into water and, from a cherry picker, asperged the newly installed solar panels on the parish hall at Saint Stephen’s Episcopal Church.

The Rt. Rev. Glenda Curry went aloft earlier this fall to celebrate a 104-kilowatt solar project that is expected to provide about a quarter of the electricity the church consumes, according to Michael Yancey, one of the parishioners who led the effort at the church in Cahaba Heights, a Birmingham suburb.

Another parishioner, Danielle Dunbar, helped secure a $25,000 grant from the Solar Moonshot project, a San Diego-based program that provides grants for solar installations at nonprofit facilities around the country. Rector John Burruss said the total cost of the project was about $220,000, and it is expected to pay for itself in seven to eight years.

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At Saint Stephen’s, generating solar power is the latest in an ongoing effort to become more intentional stewards of God’s creation. In 2020, the parish undertook an LED light conversion projected to save the congregation roughly $14,000 per year in energy costs — freeing up funds the parish can use for other projects that benefit the wider community. Adding solar power is intended to work alongside the LED conversion to help the congregation reduce its overall carbon footprint.

The church hopes to create a blueprint that can be shared with other churches who want to do more to care for creation and reduce energy use. “We’d like to be able to share with other churches: Here are lessons we’ve learned, here’s a way you can do these things,” Yancey said.