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Small group takes small steps to save energy

By Mary Stamp

A small group at Faith Lutheran Church in Leavenworth read a book in 2013 that inspired them to embark on a community solar project.

Solar panels on middle school enough for three homes

When they read Frances Moore LappĂ©’s book, EcoMind: Changing the Way We Think to Create the World We Want, the group was struck by her assertion that climate change can still be stabilized if millions of people take small, deliberate actions.

Essentially, the six decided to work towards creating the world they want.

“We didn’t want to be immobilized by the sense of hopelessness that so many people feel about climate change,” said Lisa Therrell, chairperson for the church’s Earth Stewardship Group

We wanted to do something to make a difference with climate change by reducing carbon emissions,” said MaryCarol Nelson, a member of the group and one of the project organizers of the Icicle River Middle School community solar project. 

Another group member, Barbara Rossing, a professor at the Lutheran School of Theology in Chicago, suggested doing a solar project in the community.

She said solar panels would be “a visible sign of the church’s commitment to a vision of hope for the future of the world.”

Barbara learned about Washington’s Renewable Energy Cost Recovery Incentive Payment Program.

Their project would be “a small, but important, step to help our economy transition away from fossil fuel-dependence, a vital energy shift, reflecting our love for God’s people and all creation,” said Barbara, who had already installed 39 panels at her home.

Lisa Therrell told what a small group accomplished in Leavenworth.

The group worked for a year with consultant Ellen Lamiman of Energy Solutions in Winthrop, the Chelan Public Utility District (PUD) and Cascade School District.  Ellen handled the technical aspects of designing the system and navigating the program requirements.

Four Faith Lutheran members recruited investors and donors to support the first community solar project in Chelan County.  In June 2014, 96 photovoltaic solar panels were installed on the Icicle River Middle School roof.  The panels produce 19,680 watts, enough to power three homes.

“Under Washington’s Renewable Energy Cost Recovery Program, a solar project can be designed to allow a community jointly to donate to and invest in a solar installation on a public property. A nonprofit, in this case Faith Lutheran, can be the project administrator,” said Lisa.

Investors receive an annual payment based on energy produced through June 2020, which allows them to recover their investment, she said.

“We thought the school would use the power generated, but it was easier to put the energy back into the power grid,” Lisa said.  “The school receives Sustainable Natural Alternative Power (SNAP) payments from the Chelan County PUD for electricity generated.”

Through SNAP, the PUD makes small-scale solar and wind power more cost-effective for customers who donate a little extra on their utility bills.  Individuals, schools and nonprofits are generating solar and wind power, building a base for renewable energy in the county.  There were 15 more individuals and businesses installing solar panels in 2015, according to the Chelan County PUD.

When some questioned why installing solar panels would be part of a church’s ministry, Lisa said that creation care is integral in the church’s mission statement: “To incarnate the gracious, healing and reconciling presence of God through sacramental worship, congregational nurture, and ministries of peace, mercy and justice for all Creation.”

“Contributing clean renewable energy into the regional grid helps reduce dependence on carbon-emitting fuels,” said Lisa.

Faith Lutheran, a congregation of 100, has a reputation for instigating good things,” she said.  “The community has trust in the goodwill of the church to come through with a project.”

Other past projects of Faith’s Earth Stewardship Group have included having a potter make 100 ceramic mugs and soup bowls to save on paper waste, installing a bike rack at the church, and offering seminars on gardening.

Care of creation comes naturally to Lisa, who has lived in Leavenworth for 24 years.  She retired there after 34 years of working with the U. S. Forest Service in Washington and Idaho as a wilderness manager and planner, managing the interface between people’s desire for recreation and leaving wilderness natural and undisturbed. 

“I assessed how to do the least damage,” said Lisa, who graduated in 1981 in biology and environmental studies from Seattle Pacific University.

“I was always nature oriented and started learning about plants and birds from my mother.  I liked being in the woods,” she said of living near Issaquah, where she grew up. 

She attended a church, but left it, frustrated by consumptive attitudes parishioners held towards creation.  As she moved with her work with the Forest Service, she tried different churches, a Presbyterian church in Roslyn, Wash., and a Methodist church in Grangeville, Idaho.

Visiting Holden Village in 1985 introduced her to the Lutheran church and its belief that creation care is important.

She moved to Leavenworth in 1992 and started attending Faith Lutheran.

Lisa said that Faith’s Earth Stewardship Group also worked with the City of Leavenworth and Project Bayern to install recycling bins where tourists can leave cans and bottles.

“With the Clean Water Act, the nation’s tap water is good,” she said. 

“There are parts of the world where I would not drink the water,” said Lisa, “but most bottled water is from a tap.  The water in Leavenworth is from the Alpine Lakes Wilderness.  It’s clean, fresh, treated, filtered and tested for 72 contaminants.

“We would like to promote Leavenworth as a sustainable tourist destination.  We want to work with motels to be less resource consumptive,” she said.

Lisa and Barbara also participate in Climate Conversations North Central Washington, an ad hoc group that advocates for response to climate change.  They also link with groups like Leavenworth Sustainability Alliance to encourage businesses to develop new ways they can be sustainable, and work with Earth Ministry in Seattle on education programs.

Recently the Methodist pastor, and members of Faith Lutheran and Our Lady of the Snow Catholic Church read and studied the Pope’s encyclical Laudato Si, “Care of Our Common Home.”  About 20 people met six times over the winter, and have now become an ecumenical group.

Environment is just one of Faith Lutheran’s outreach efforts, Lisa added. 

People from the church helped start the Community Cupboard Food Bank, which provides relief services, and an Empty Bowls event to raise money for the food bank.

Then came cooperative housing and a free clinic, managed by Upper Valley MEND (Meeting Each Need with Dignity), which Faith Lutheran helped form in the 1980s.  MEND also has an adult family home for the developmentally disabled. 

Meanwhile, Faith Lutheran has engaged with the local immigrant population and is offering English as a second language and citizenship classes.

“We are a small church, but act on our faith by extending God’s love and providing service to our community,” Lisa said.

For information, call 509-548-4387 or email

Copyright © June 2016 - The Fig Tree