North Carolina Church Harnesses the Power of the Sun for Climate Action

In February, we reported the ambiguous regulations of solar power in Indiana, and how it was affecting small churches. Similarly, North Carolina’s Faith Community Church is facing a dilemma after state legislation banning third party resell of solar power was passed. The move came after significant pressure from Duke Energy, the state's primary source for electricity. Considering the debatable nature of state solar laws, the Greensboro congregation decided to press the issue by installing solar panels on their roof, finalizing their attempt to become a self-sustaining faith facility that reflects God’s desire for us to care for creation.

Commenting on the action, Rev. Nelson Johnson shared, ”This giant monopoly…should not be entitled to the energy from the sun, which God has given to all of us,” and many faith leaders across America are starting to agree. But, North Carolina churches haven’t stopped there, taking further steps toward fair solar regulations by submitting a 21-page request to the Utilities Commission, urging them to revoke the bylaws. 

N.C. Church Takes a Defiant Stand—With Solar Panels

By Zahra Hirji for Inside Climate News

A jovial ribbon-cutting ceremony at a small red brick church in Greensboro, the third-largest city in North Carolina, was something of a masquerade. It was really a bold stance for environmental justice.

The solar panels gleaming on the roof of Faith Community Church are meant to generate power—and controversy—because they defy a state law prohibiting anyone besides major utility companies from selling electricity. It's not an outright ban on consumer solar panels, but it's close. And it's backed by the energy giant Duke Energy.

The church in partnership with a local environmental social justice group, the North Carolina Waste Awareness and Reduction Network, NC WARN, wants to change that.

"This giant monopoly…should not be entitled to the energy from the sun, which God has given to all of us," said Rev. Nelson Johnson, senior pastor at the Greensboro church. Johnson, a North Carolina native, is known across the state for decades of work on social and economic justice issues.

Faith Community, a non-denomenational, largely African-American church, installed 20 rooftop solar panels on June 17. NC WARN owns the panels and is selling the electricity directly to the church for a low cost, in a challenge to North Carolina law.

North Carolina is one of four states where third-party groups are restricted from selling electricity. Duke Energy, the state's largest utility, has opposed this form of competition.

But North Carolina law doesn't explicitly ban third-party solar; it is just implied through the state's definition of a utility. The church is creating a test case to force regulators to make a decision and clarify that definition. With the North Carolina Utilities Commission expected to review this case in the coming months, Duke has agreed to connect the panels into the grid until the commissioners make an official decision.

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