Ezekiel Lutheran Church installs solar panels

Green Team dedicated to conservation, renewable energy

RIVER FALLS – Ezekiel Lutheran Church celebrated its installation of a 129 solar panel array with a ribbon cutting and grab and go picnic Wednesday, Sept. 29.

Ezekiel’s Green Team spearheaded the project, which kickstarted at a congregational meeting in January 2020. According to Relational Ministry Coordinator Sandy Tauferner, the Green Team had been working on ways to promote environmental stewardship at Ezekiel.

“We have continued to highlight our responsibility to care for all of God’s Earth,” Tauferner said.

Among its activities, the Green Team has promoted an energy audit, made sure that recycling bins are in every room in the building, shared environmental tips via the church newsletters, and headed monthly informational meetings and contests to encourage the congregation to be environmental stewards.

Tauferner said that Ezekiel is a member of Hope for Creation and saw firsthand how First Congregational United Church of Christ and St. Bridget Catholic Church installed solar panel arrays on their buildings.

“We knew that reducing our carbon foot print by installing a solar panel array was a prudent environmental stewardship endeavor,” Tauferner shared. “The Green Team met with Mike Noreen, River Falls Energy & Efficiency Coordinator, and Energy Concepts to develop a plan for a solar panel array on our roof.”

The designed array is projected to save Ezekiel $4,000 per year on energy costs. With Noreen’s help, the Green Team researched grant funding for the project. Once they applied for grants, the team presented its plan to the congregation at the January 2020 annual meeting.

“As the solar panel array would be on the roof and a structural addition to the building, we needed the congregation to vote on proceeding with the project,” Tauferner said.

The Green Team advocated for solar as a tangible way to practice environmental stewardship and caring for God’s earth, to create a lasting legacy for children and grandchildren, to counter rising utility costs, and to lead by example. City of River Falls sustainability practices are ranked fourth in the nation, Tauferner said. In fact, River Falls became the first municipality in the state on Jan. 1, 2020 to power city buildings using 100 percent renewable energy, part of a city campaign called Renewable River Falls.

Noreen said Ezekiel’s solar array is important to the community because it demonstrates the growing conservation ethic in River Falls.

“It’s a very visible project so residents, visitors and UWRF students will clearly see our commitment and priorities in River Falls,” Noreen said. “What is not visible is all the work Ezekiel did leading up to the solar array.”

He applauded the congregation, who he said has worked hard to conserve energy the past five years, through behavior changes and education, and multiple energy efficiency projects through weatherization and LED lighting. He said those actions brought down their energy usage to appoint where it made sense to invest in renewable energy.

Benefits of solar arrays are many, Tauferner outlined. For the church, they are a way to:

•Invest in a long-term, energy savings, planet friendly building improvement

•Reduce our carbon footprint, thus caring for our common home

•Generate approximately 40 percent of the power used by the church building

•Save $4,000 in heating costs per year

•Reduce coal ash residue (produced when coal is burned) that is dumped into our landfills and gets into our waterways In May 2020, the Green Team began its pledge drive for purchasing the solar panels. By the end of August 2020, the group had reached its goal; 81 individuals and families purchased solar panels. Ezekiel also received grants from WPPI Energy, RENEW Wisconsin’s Solar for Good Initiative, Focus on Energy and River Falls Municipal Utilities.

Work began to install the solar panels in June 2021. Cold weather in October 2020 delayed the installation until the following spring. Energy Concepts, Inc. managed the project, with local company Steiner Plumbing, Electric & Heating performing the installation. The state and city completed inspections on Aug. 31 and electricity began to be generated.

Ezekiel’s Green Team isn’t going to stop there. They have more ideas on their list.

“The Green Team is working on the possibility of changing all of the lighting in the building to be energy saving LED lights,” Tauferner said. “We will also continue to educate the congregation about reducing and eliminating the use of plastics, alternative products that can be used that are more environmentally friendly (such as laundry soap, toothpaste, packaging), and continue to remind everyone of our responsibility to care for all of God’s Earth.”

Noreen credits Tauferner for all she did to make the solar project happen.

“Sandy Tauferner is like a duck; she appears calm and cool, yet what we don’t see is her paddling like crazy to get upstream,” Noreen said.

A group of River Falls churches working together to make systematic changes to fight climate change, called Hope for Creation, deserves credit as well, Noreen said.

“Aside from the commitment from the parishioners, another group instrumental in the effort is the collective efforts put forth by Hope for Creation,” he said. “Ezekiel is the third church in River Falls to install solar and a fourth has gone 100 percent carbon free by utilizing a green energy program through the utilities.”

Ezekiel’s Green team also promotes environmental stewardship by celebrating Earth Day, planning intergenerational events to educate the congregation about appropriate waste disposal and reducing their use of plastics. They’ve even made bags out of old Tshirts and encourage members to use environmentally friendly wrapping paper.

To learn more about the Green Team and its initiatives, visit: ezekiel-green-team

Solar Sandy (a.k.a. Ezekiel’s Relational Ministry Coordinator Sandy Tauferner) is ready to cut the ceremonial ribbon Wednesday, Sept. 29 at Ezekiel Lutheran Church’s solar panel project completion celebration. Also pictured (from left): Jerry Gibson, Gwen Conklin, Russel Gilberg (president of Energy Concepts, LLC), Tauferner, Mayor Dan Toland, Luke Steiner (of Steiner Plumbing, Heating & Electric), Mike Hodges (from WPPI), Green Team member Don Richards, River Falls Energy & Efficiency Coordinator Mike Noreen and Max Franklin (child). Photo courtesy of Ezekiel Lutheran Church

Solar panels have been installed on the north end of Ezekiel Lutheran Church in River Falls.Photo courtesy of Ezekiel Lutheran Church

October 13, 2021