Guilford, Vermont, has a fascinating history. Today, the population is just over 2,100. This is not much changed from the 2,400 or so it had in 1790, when it was one of the largest towns in the Vermont Republic. Another thing that remains from an earlier age is the Guilford Community Church (GCC), which was founded in 1767 or 1768. To be clear, the original church building burned down, and a new one had to be built in 1847, but the congregation kept going through that difficult time.
Changes do happen, of course, even in things that seem to last forever. Though stewardship of our environment is something that has its foundation in the Bible itself, its position in the life of the church is changing. It is becoming a focal point for a number of church groups in the 21st century. Members of the GCC congregation have been growing much more interested in the environment and climate change.
Country churches are not known for being especially wealthy, and the GCC is hardly an exception. Plans and expenditures have to be revisited periodically, just to keep staff paid and maintenance up to date. Recently, GCC decided that it would set goals of getting to 100% carbon-neutral energy and net-zero waste.
Activity after that point included everything from installing LED lighting and heat pumps to improving insulation and sealing windows. (Pastor Lise Sparrow said offhandedly, “We replaced the insulation in a very virtuous way.” I could not help being much amused.) This is especially difficult for a small church because of a financial restriction that might seem rather severe. Any expenditure of $500 or more has to be reviewed by the whole congregation. Nevertheless, work has gone forward at a satisfying pace.
Of course having their own solar array was a goal, but under the circumstances it probably seemed rather far off to many church members. The size of the investment was not the only thing holding back a solar project. The federal government applies its incentives for solar power in the form of a tax break. This is fine for people who pay enough in income tax to make it worth while, but people or organizations without taxable income get no benefit from tax breaks.
In a small church, a lot of things get done by networking and using connections. And connections helped GCC get a solar array of its own. A member of the congregation is a relative of a couple, Victoria Roberts and Simon Piluski, who own and operate Southern Vermont Solar (SVS).
Pastor Sparrow said that Roberts and Piluski were very excited about the idea of putting a solar array on the roof of GCC. SVS is a rather new organization, formed in 2017, but Piluski was already an electrician when he took interest in solar photovoltaics, which was in 2000. Roberts, the business manager, has a master’s degree in education. Both owners had been aware of the fact that federal aid was not readily available to non-profit organizations, and being presented with a chance to build one gave them the opportunity to develop their own approach to dealing with the problem. Roberts said that SVS had worked with an attorney experienced in solar projects to find the best solution to getting the array up.
The system was designed to have 37 Hanwha modules with enphase microinverters, for a total capacity of 12 kW, on the roof of the church. The work Roberts and Piluski did with their lawyer made it affordable. It was presented to the congregation for approval, and it was approved unanimously.
Now, Guilford Community Church has its solar array in place, and every member of the congregation has reason to feel a sense of accomplishment.