Energy Conservation and Efficiency

Energy costs are often among the biggest a parish has to face. Laudato Si’ discusses the need for “developing renewable and less polluting forms of energy, [and] encouraging a more efficient use of energy.” Pope Francis quotes Pope Emeritus Benedict XVI, who said: “technologically advanced societies must be prepared to encourage more sober lifestyles, while reducing their energy consumption and improving its efficiency.”

In Massachusetts, we get most of our electricity  from fossil fuels coal and natural gas.  However, over the last decade we have made great strides in reducing greenhouse gases (GHG) emissions from electricity through elimination of coal fired power plants and significant improvements state wide in efficiency in the use of electricity.  As a result, in the electric sector has reduced greenhouse gas emissions more that 42% from 1990 level.  The state also has leading programs for energy efficiency in transportation and building thermal systems.  In fact Massachusetts has been the #1 ranked Energy Efficiency state nationally for 8 years through 2017.

Both institutions and families can leverage these leadership state programs to lower their energy usage which not only reduce GHG emissions and other pollutant but also lowers costs.

Parish and School Actions for Energy Conservation

Pursuing energy efficiency for your parish can be as easy as installing an LED light bulb, as expensive as replacing your HVAC system, or as complicated as changing the way you are billed for electricity. There are many opportunities at all levels for your parish to reduce your energy use. It’s important to first understand how your parish uses energy in its buildings and how human behavior impacts energy use. Saving energy saves money. And the money saved can be redirected towards ministries and programs that benefit the larger community. 

On average, the HVAC system in a church accounts for 32 percent of total energy use. Lighting is the second largest energy user in most buildings, using 20 to 30 percent of total energy. Your parish can save considerable money by turning off lights and installing motion sensors on light switches. Water heating and other energy loads can contribute 26 percent or more to your total energy consumption. If your parish or school has commercial cooking equipment, your “Cooking” category is likely to be greater than average due to the energy used for commercial appliances.  

Make the commitment

Many people besides your parish’s facility manager are responsible for managing energy wisely.  A successful energy management program requires the engagement and commitment of multiple stakeholders in your parish community. The parish Green Team can become a vocal advocate for energy efficiency in your parish. 

Designate a single individual to coordinate the team and follow up and report on your parish’s progress to promote accountability.  Include those who have an impact on energy use or will be affected by energy management decisions, such as an individual whose passion is creation care and environmental sustainability. It will also be very helpful if team members are empowered to make budgeting decisions. This commitment will be most powerful if it is put in writing, agreed to and shared with your entire congregation. 

Determine current energy performance and set a goal

Creating a baseline of your current energy use allows you to measure progress against these numbers. A baseline is a summary of all energy use of each of the buildings that the parish or school is responsible for.  Ideally, this should be collected for several consecutive years which will provide a trend in the usage.  There are also normal year-year variations associated with the enerrgy usage based on the weather.  You can adjust these variations based on the total degree-days reported by the weather services.

This will also allow you to compare your current energy performance with the performance of other parishes. There are several metrics by which experts can benchmark your parish’s energy performance. These metrics are discussed in detail in your Energy Audit Report.

Once your energy management team commits to energy efficiency and determines how your current performance stacks up to your peers, the next step is to set an energy reduction goal. This goal should be realistic yet challenging. It should be specific in terms of desired energy savings.  Deadlines should be established. A clear goal will help rally your parish community and provide a measure against which you can evaluate your progress. An energy reduction goal usually has several parts:

  1. A Metric (e.g. total energy use per square ft.)
  2. A Baseline (e.g. from a 2017 baseline)
  3. A Reduction Amount (e.g. reduce by 15%)

Goal:  Reduce Total Energy per Square Ft by 15% compared to usage in 2017.

Create your Energy Action Plan

An Energy Action Plan specifically spells out how your team will achieve or begin to achieve your energy reduction goal. This is where specific energy conservation measures should be defined. The Action Plan should state who will be responsible for accomplishing each measure and what resources they will have to support them.

A ideal option for starting your energy action plan is to contact MassSave who will conduct no-costs energy audits for your facilities and provide guidance on upgrades.  The MassSave reports will aprise you of all the latests subsidies and rebates provided by the utilities for energy efficiency investments.

For more information about energy conservation actions your parish can take, Massachusetts Interfaith Power & Light has generated guides, resources, and cost calculators to assist with developing and maintaining your environmental stewardship ministry. 

Did you know? 

In 2007, Pope Benedict XVI announced that Vatican City would aim to become the world's first "carbon neutral state" by switching the Paul VI audience hall to solar power and planting a forest in Europe.  

Implement your Energy Action Plan

Begin taking concrete steps to reduce energy use, based on your energy energy action plan and audit. For example:

  • Swap out incandescent light bulbs with LED light bulb. Old fashioned light bulbs waste a lot of energy, and actually give off more heat energy than light.
  • Install a programmable thermostat that limits when the heating or air conditioning comes on. For example, when no one is in the church or school, the thermostat can be programmed to 55° Fahrenheit. During times when people are working, studying and worshiping, stay within the 68-78 zone for winter and summer  
  • Put inside lights on timers, and both inside and outside lights on motion sensors.
  • Replace old appliances with Energy Star appliances.
  • Insulate, seal cracks and leaks, and check or replace storm windows.
  • Consider replacing single paned windows with double paned windows. The return on investment will take only a few years.​​​​

The implementation process inevitably involves surprises and demands some flexibility. Be sure to keep energy management team members informed of progress and setbacks. Communicate frequently with all congregation stakeholders about your energy management plan so they understand the bigger picture and how it relates to changes they see occurring.

For more aggressive action, consider putting rooftop solar panels on the church, rectory, or school…or all of them! Mass Save can help your parish decide whether solar is best for you. If you'd like to learn about more ways to incorporate sustainability and renewables at your parish, both Mass Energy and Massachusetts Clean Energy Center have options you can explore in the realm of renewable electricity such as wind energy and hydropower. As mentioned in other actions, Massachusetts Interfaith Power and Light serves as great resource for your environmental stewardship plans and provides you with technical briefs and very informative documents on energy efficiency. 

Family Action for Energy Conservation

In most Massachusetts, space heating, appliances, and lighting make up the bulk of our homes energy use. Just as there are many ways to conserve energy at church, there are many effective ways to save energy at home. Whether you live in a house or apartment, a mobile home or a renovated loft, conserving energy will benefit our environment and put money in your pocket!

Massachusetts households spend about $2500/yr on energy home heating .  Massachusetts residents have a unique energy consumption profile. Space heating accounts for 59% of home energy use in Massachusetts compared to 42% nationwide.  In contrast,  Massachusetts consumers use 35% less electricity per household than the national average due to low air conditioning and leading state wide energy efficiency programs. 

Bottom line, when you conserve energy, you can lower your energy cost and help improve the environment. 

More information:
Massachusetts website on energy
US Energy Information Assistance Center