solar panels

Who Owns the Sun?

FOR SOMETHING as simple as sunlight, the solar energy industry can be a bit complicated. But that never stopped pastor Brian Flory from trying to see the light.

“Putting solar panels on the roof of our congregation was important to us,” said Flory, who runs the Beacon Heights Church of Brethren in Fort Wayne, Ind. “For us it seemed like a wonderful opportunity to live out the values that our faith was leading us toward.”

To live out one of the core values of his faith—being good stewards of God’s creation—Flory began the process of installing panels on his church’s roof in 2014. He’d barely raised the needed $20,000 to support the project when a bill in the Indiana state legislature nearly stopped him in his tracks.

House Bill 1320, introduced in January 2015 by Republican Rep. Eric Koch was intended to severely disincentivize individuals in Indiana from installing solar panels on their homes, businesses, and churches. If it was signed into law, Flory said, his whole project would be doomed.

The Indiana bill is not the only one of its kind. It is part of an ongoing effort across the country by a group called the American Legislative Exchange Council (ALEC). Backed by billionaire brothers Charles and David Koch, the influential right-wing group has pushed bills like this in multiple states: Utah, Georgia, Wisconsin, and Arizona, to name a few. Their goal, ultimately, is to make sure the rapid growth of rooftop solar does not cut into electrical utilities’ profits, in which many of ALEC’s members are heavily invested.

These bills all run on a variation of what the Indiana bill sought to do. Under it, solar customers who want to sell the excess power they generate back to the electrical grid would receive substantially less money than before—as much as 60 to 70 percent less. In addition, power utilities would be allowed to add a fixed monthly charge to solar users’ bills, as well as added interconnection fees.

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A Merry Little Climate

Ecological ornaments. Image courtesy Alex Fabbri/shutterstock.com

Ecological ornaments. Image courtesy Alex Fabbri/shutterstock.com

The ink is barely dry on the latest plan to deal with climate change. One can hardly claim that Lima was a resounding success, but it’s not a complete failure either. With 2014 looking to be the hottest year on record, very fast action indeed is needed to keep a global mean temperature below 2 degrees celsius over pre-industrial levels. Given that people are suffering now from less than 1 percent celsius, it is already too late to avoid some consequences of climate change. However, there is still time to avoid the worst of the scenarios, and Lima at least commits all nations to act, even if the harder decisions are to be made in Paris in 2015. Meanwhile, the clock keeps ticking.

In Australia, things have looked pretty grim for those of us concerned about the future. While I’ve been encouraged as I have gone around speaking at churches and Christian organisations, and seen the enthusiasm for something to be done, our reaction in the public sphere has often been muted. There are sections of the church who could be showing much greater moral leadership on this issue. Climate change is an issue for all Australians — indeed for all of humanity, regardless of ethnicity, religion, or politics. The reality of a drying continent, a longer and more volatile fire weather season, and deadlier heatwaves does not discriminate.

Further, with the removal of the carbon tax, an attack on the Renewable Energy Target, and the continued pushing of coal at state and federal level, we seem to be going backwards, not forwards. It is heartening to see an about-face on the Green Climate Fund, but it simply isn’t enough to play Good Samaritan when you are one of the robbers waylaying the innocent.

Future's So Bright

"Given the option of paying more for dirty power or paying less for clean power, what would you take?"

Photo: Brandon Hook / Sojourners

Jim Rice, editor of Sojourners magazine, has been a member of Sojourners editorial staff since 1989. He has also served as director of Sojourners Outreach Ministry and as coordinator of Sojourners Peace Ministry. He currently serves as a Research Fellow for the New Media Project at Christian Theological Seminary.

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