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Solar panels are part of efforts to inspire island to act

The Congregational UCC Church on Mercer Island has not only installed solar panels on its roof but also is hosting programs to inspire others on Mercer Island to take action on climate change.

The energy team—Roberta Rominger, Hans Fredrikson, Cheryl Malcham, Jonathan Harrington and Jay Mavoori—stand in front of Congregational Church on Mercer Island, which has new solar panels are on the roof. Photo courtesy of The Mercer Island Reporter

The City of Mercer Island, which has a part-time sustainability officer and a volunteer Mercer Island Sustainability Group that meets at the church.

As a part of the effort of the community of 25,000 to find ways to reduce energy use and produce renewable solar energy, the church voted unanimously in September 2018 to install solar panels on its roof.

“We explored solar while the city was encouraging residents to install solar panels on their home as part of its Ready for 100 program—meaning 100 percent solar or renewable energy,” said Roberta Rominger, pastor there since 2015.

She contacted contractors about solar for the church and there were Washington state funds to pay for 50 percent of installation.

“We figured on that, chose an installer who went to the city for permits.  We expected to have the panels installed the first of the year, but discovered there are different regulations for public buildings,” she said.  “We had to jump through hoops, and by then the state incentive was gone, and it would cost more.”

In April 2019, the church council voted unanimously to go ahead with plans to install panels.  They chose a smaller, higher quality, more expensive LG 14.6 KW solar panel system, because they can only cover part of the roof, which was not built to bear the weight.

“The energy produced covers two-thirds of the electrical bill and we are working to improve weatherization and switch light bulbs to reduce electrical use,” Roberta said.  “It will pay for itself in 20.6 years, or sooner if we use less energy.

“We didn’t do it to save money.  We did it because it’s the right thing to do and an important witness to the community that we take the climate crisis seriously and are good stewards of creation.”

The church’s Climate Action Team also hosts monthly educational events and invites the community. 

Last spring, Roberta preached a series of sermons on how faith can address emotions the climate crisis evokes, such as denial, fear, grief and hopelessness.

The church is hosting events to inspire others to take action, because doing something creates hope.

You Are Our Sunshine      

Jimmie Davis, Roberta Rominger

You are our sunshine, our only sunshine
A wondrous answer to skies of gray
You’ll never know, Sun, how much we love you
Solar panels harvest your rays

Your photons travel from burning lesions
They are abundant throughout the day
And now we’ll use them to light our building
For our worship and our play

Our brain cells boggle at all the science
and engineering behind the scenes
Briggs on the rooftop, wires to the store room
Is it miracles or dreams?

With you to help us, we’ll save our planet
We’ll save the oceans and orcas too
Majestic forests and shiny glaciers
So we sing our thanks to you.

For the launch, the church held a “Solar Party,” with sunshine cookies and a vegetable tray arranged to look like a sunflower.  They sang “Sunshine on My Shoulder,” “Here Comes the Sun” and Roberta’s version of “You Are Our Sunshine.” (The words are in the box.)

An Oct. 26 event, “From Active Hope to Embodied Hope” drew from spiritual resources to inspire hope.

On Nov. 2 they hosted “The Alaska Suite,” a multi-media program featuring a jazz quintet and poetry on threats to the Alaskan wilderness and signs of hope.

The church also partnered with the community for the global Climate Strike Day Sept. 20, when they did sign making and sign waving.

In January, they plan an evening with Recology presenting information on recycling and composting.

Bellevue UCC’s choir and climate action team will present an inspirational event in January.

The church’s reader board also includes messages.

“Nothing we’re facing is more important than this,” she said.

She said the church’s solar panels were partly inspired by the city’s efforts to encourage climate action and solar panel installations on Mercer Island. The city has led two residential solar installation campaigns.

The city reports there are about 200 commercial and residential solar installations that altogether have a total generating capacity of l660 kilowatts. That includes two systems on top of local schools.

The goal is to reduce greenhouse gas emissions on the island and increase clean energy. The city’s goal 2050 goal is to reduce emissions by 80 percent below levels recorded in 2005.

For information, call 206-232-7800, email or visit


Copyright © Winter 2019-2020 Pacific NW United Church News


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