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UCC churches join voices with labor and education for action

Two UCC pastors in Spokane are among the leaders for Spokane Alliance events that have promoted a statewide SustainableWorks project, now helping homeowners do energy efficiency audits retrofits to protect the environment and provide quality jobs.

LInda Crowe

Linda Crowe of Veradale UCC talks with Jeremy Utley to prepare to lead a fall assembly in Spokane.

Westminster Congregational UCC and Veradale UCC are among 32 faith, labor and education partners involved with Spokane Alliance efforts to discern problems people face and develop ongoing solutions to them.

“SustainableWorks did an energy audit and a lighting retrofit for Veradale UCC a year and a half ago, helping us save energy so we have more money to use on mission,” said Linda Crowe, pastor.  “They coordinated contractors and maximized incentives.”

At an October meeting, Sustainable Works launched a project in the South Perry district of Spokane, where several members of Westminster Congregational UCC live, and have been going door-to-door inviting neighbors to have energy audits to see if their homes will benefit from retrofits.

Linda said most of the neighborhood’s 50-to-100-year-old  homes could save energy with new furnaces, hot water heaters, insulation, and sealing cracks and windows.

“SustainableWorks is arranging blower tests to find air leaks,” she said.  “Homeowners can install 95-percent efficient furnaces for $2,000 or less.”

Interested homeowners will go through a pre-audit, an energy audit and a consultation before deciding on a retrofit.

The process determines if improvements will save enough energy costs to offset the cost of the retrofit, Linda said.

For example, replacing the furnace at Liberty Park United Methodist Church cut its heating the building in half.

The program also is a means to train workers to do energy upgrades under the supervision of experienced contractors.

SustainableWorks will use a $4 million Community Energy Efficiency Pilot Grant funded by the American Recovery and Reinvestment Act, combining utility incentives and homeowner investments to generate hundreds of new green jobs. 

By organizing one moderate-income neighborhood at a time, the project hopes to achieve a high level of participation to reach energy efficiency goals.

“Our model provides a one-stop shop for customers,” noted Steve Gelb, executive director of SustainableWorks. “Homeowners will be able have an audit of their home, have workers ready to fix and retrofit any energy problems and their costs will be matched through low-interest loans with their energy savings,”

SustainableWorks has been laying the groundwork for the project since summer.  It is initiating its first energy-saving retrofits with 200 neighborhood homes in the Northeast Seattle and 300 in the South Perry neighborhood of Spokane, with the goal of spreading to other neighborhoods and eventually to 3,700 homes statewide.

Steve Paulson of Westminster Congregational UCC said SustainableWorks has progressed because of support from the governor and state legislature.

“The Green Jobs Bill is now state policy,” said State Senator Lisa Brown, pledging partnership at an October meeting, because the program means “utility bill savings for families in need, support for living wage jobs, fulfilling the national policy to reduce energy consumption and reduction of carbon emissions.

“Despite budget ups and downs, this program will help us achieve those goals,” she said.

Andrea CastroLang, pastor at Westminster Congregational UCC, has also chaired alliance assemblies.

“Our church values the grassroots organizing, taking on issues members care about, paying attention to their needs and concerns,” she said.  “Issues are evoked during Listening Seasons, sessions in which people share stories and find common concerns.”

The alliance’s Strategy Team analyzes those issues and suggests priorities.  The Research and Action Team determines what issues members can do something about.

For nearly five years, one team has been educating members and testifying in Olympia on the state’s regressive tax system that winds up with lower income people a higher percentage of their incomes than upper income people pay.

Westminster was involved when Andy came seven years ago.  Lead organizer Joe Chrastil, a Westminster member, initiated the program in Spokane and has now moved to Seattle, where he is helping organize the Sound Alliance, which includes Admiral and Normandy Park UCC churches.

Andy said that being part of the Spokane Alliance gives her a more powerful voice, because it’s a 9,000-member alliance of 32 organizations, in contrast her 200-member church.

It has also been an outlet for activism for her son, Nick, who is now at the University of Idaho.  He has helped leaflet, phone bank and do advocacy in Olympia.

“With all the spin on talk radio, the best response to cynicism is to do something,” said Andy, who has worked with the alliance on efforts to save Spokane Transit routes and challenge the sale of Deaconess Medical Center to a for-profit business.  Once the alliance has agreements on issues, it continues to come back to businesses and government entities to assure compliance.

“The Spokane Alliance bucks the trend of civic disengagement that threatens democracy,” Andy said.  “It restores the power of people through civic engagement.”

For information, call 509-532-1688.


Copyright Pacific Northwest Conference News © December 2009


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