Rabbi Moti Rieber of Overland Park is on a mission to help area churches and houses of worship become more energy-efficient.
As executive director of the nonprofit Kansas Interfaith Power and Light (Kansas IPL), Rieber wants to help congregations save energy, and as a result, save money.
The organization is awarding matching grants of $3,000 to 15 churches in Johnson, Wyandotte, Leavenworth and Miami counties for use on energy upgrades to their facilities. The program, Energy Stewardship for Houses of Worship, is being funded by a grant from the Mid-America Regional Council.
“A lot of churches were built many years ago and weren’t really built for efficiency,” Rieber said. “And as energy costs go up, a lot of their budget has to be spent on that rather than on something more important like worship or faith education.”
Rieber has seen firsthand how things like outdated lighting and a tendency to heat or cool an empty building can cause a financial drain on houses of worship. He believes tips from Kansas IPL can go a long way in cutting down on waste.
Each participating congregation pays $3,000 out of their own pocket, with Kansas IPL contributing an additional $3,000.
So far, five congregations have signed up for the matching grant program. They are Grace Covenant Presbyterian in Overland Park, Center of Grace United Methodist in Olathe, Countryside Christian in Mission, Kansas City Community Church in Kansas City, Kan., and Victory Hills Church of the Nazarene in KCK.
The first step for each congregation is to undergo an energy analysis by a trained energy analyst. The ultimate goal is to cut the building’s energy costs by 15 percent or more.
“This program focuses mostly on lighting upgrades and temperature setbacks,” Rieber said. “Often, a member of a congregation will go into a building and adjust a thermostat and nobody will know it. Timed thermostats can help. We are looking for the most immediate and quickest payback upgrades to a building.”
One of those upgrades suggested by Kansas IPL is to replace older fluorescent lighting. A simple change from an older T12 fluorescent bulb to a more efficient T8 fluorescent bulb can make a big difference.
Improvements like this can often be accomplished largely with the help of congregation members, Rieber said. He said that if members make the bulk of the upgrades, an electrician may have to do just part of the work.
“It’s possible to recruit maybe five or six congregation members for a sweat equity investment,” Rieber said. “It makes them feel like they own the program.”
Once the improvements are made, Kansas IPL uses software developed by the Environmental Protection Agency’s EnergyStar program to track and monitor the savings. Rieber knows that congregations can use the money they save with these improvements on a variety of needs. However, he hopes that some will consider taking part of their savings and putting it into more energy upgrades.
While the goal for many congregations is to save on operating costs, Rieber’s hope is that congregations and members alike will come away with greater knowledge about energy conservation.
“Some people are concerned about earth stewardship and some are concerned about the cost of their building,” Rieber said. “Putting it into real-life practice and making that connection between principle and practice can be very powerful for people.”