Sinai Goes Solar
How a forward-thinking temple in California reduced its carbon footprint
By Maggie Freed
Climate change is the greatest challenge our earth faces—and the longer we wait, the more difficult it will be to turn it around. Scientists agree that we are causing extreme weather by our greenhouse gas emissions, particularly from burning coal. If we don’t get serious about it, island nations will disappear, coastal cities will be inundated, hundred-year storms will occur every 10 or 20 years, droughts and fires will become more frequent and severe, and we will be leaving our children and grandchildren with an unlivable world. Physicians for Social Responsibility—the largest physician-led organization in the U.S. working to prevent nuclear war and proliferation and to slow, stop and reverse global warming—warns of the devastating health effects of pollution and global warming.
The Jewish value of caring for our environment calls for us to do all we can to reduce our carbon footprint, and Temple Sinai of Glendale, a Reform congregation in Glendale, Calif., has taken this imperative to heart. We are taking steps to be part of the solution, not part of the problem.
After an energy audit by our local utility, we took a number of measures to reduce our power usage: switching to more efficient lighting, installing automatic lighting switches, and upgrading our air conditioning, as well as something as simple as closing entrances to keep in the warm air in winter and the cool air in summer.
Then we installed a solar photovoltaic system in February 2012. [Note: The term "solar photovoltaic" refers to a kind of solar panel commonly found on residential structures. Solar photovoltaic panels convert sunlight into electrical current that can be used in the structure.] Although our temple board initially was skeptical, particularly because we still were struggling with our budget, the Solar Sinai committee was able to show that we would start saving immediately once the system was installed.
The sun now produces about 47 percent of the electricity we use each month, significantly reducing our CO₂ emissions. The system also reduces our costs by about $435 each month. And when the lease is paid off, six years from now, our savings will rise to about $1,100 per month.
We are financing the system with a seven-year lease that required a $25,000 down payment. Our “Chanukah Lights Campaign,” which included donations from more than 50 percent of our congregants, raised the entire down payment amount.
A wide variety of financing options are available for solar photovoltaic systems, many of which include various rebates and credits. Here are some ways you can get started in your own congregation:
- Talk to congregations in your area that have already installed solar panels. We welcome the opportunity to share our experiences with others.
- Form a solar committee within your congregation.
- Join the Interfaith Power and Light group in your state.
- Look at your utility bills to see how quickly rates have been increasing.
- Get an energy audit to see all the ways you can conserve.
- Get some quotes from solar companies and see what YOU can save!
Our rabbi, Rick Schechter, tells the story of a rabbi who visited the sick during Yom Kippur instead of leading the service. His congregation asked him, “Rabbi, why aren’t you praying,” and he replied, “Good deeds are prayers.” It is truly a wonderful feeling, shared by our members, to see our buildings and grounds “doing good deeds” that will go on for the next 30 to 40 years.
The article above was reprinted with permission from The Reform Judaism blog.
About the Author
Maggie Freed, a member of Temple Sinai in Glendale, California, chairs the social action committee and serves on the Sustainable Sinai committee.