Work commenced in September on the installation of a major photovoltaic array on the south facing roof of Bethesda Methodist Church in Cheltenham. Though scarcely visible from the street, the 32 solar PV (Photovoltaic) panels are expected to generate upwards of 7,000 kW hrs of electricity annually for most of their 25-yr life span. The project is the result of almost two years of intensive planning and fund-raising by a church which has already received two national eco-awards for its environmental stewardship programme.
Funds to cover the £39,000 installation cost, have come from the UK Government Low Carbon Building Fund, the local Methodist Church Circuit Advance Fund, Cheltenham Borough Council, The Summerfield Trust and members of the church congregation. The work is being carried out by SolarSense, the leading Bristol/South West suppliers and installers of solar PV systems, and any surplus electricity not used by the community church will be sold back to the national grid.
The installation of its solar PV roof marks the culmination of almost a decade of wide-ranging environmental activities. Bethesda is part of the National Eco-Congregation programme which helps churches of all denominations make the link between environmental issues and their Christian faith, encouraging them to respond through practical action. Bethesda became an ‘Eco-Congregation’ nearly ten years ago and is one of only a dozen or so churches across the country to have received two national eco-awards for its work to promote ‘sustainable development’.
Since receiving its first Eco-Award from former UK Government Sustainability Advisor Jonathon Porritt in 2003, Bethesda has become a registered FairTrade church, sold more than £12,000 worth of fair-trade goods, distributed more than 1000 low energy light bulbs, operated an extensive recycling scheme and given support to other environmental groups at home & abroad.
The independent reviewers who assessed Bethesda for their second award commented “concern for issues of environmental stewardship and sustainability seem to permeate all aspects of church life” and concluded: “From any perspective, the Bethesda environmental programme is first class. It should in our view receive maximum publicity. Other churches and indeed secular organisations should be encourage to visit and learn from their example.
Following the presentation of its second award by local MP Martin Horwood in 2007, Bethesda has launched its own carbon offset programme, funds from which have just paid for the installation of a solar hot water system at Sukumanwenze AIDs orphanage in Durban, South Africa.
In a recent widely distributed publication from the Environment Agency a panel of experts drew up a list of the most important things needed to “Save the Planet”. The second of their 50 recommendations read as follows: “It is time the world’s faith groups took a lead in reminding us that we have a duty to restore and maintain the ecological balance of the planet”. Bethesda has been doing so for the last decade, is actively encouraging other churches to do likewise and is now involved in sharing its concerns with the wider community.
Mark Boulton Bethesda Eco-Coordinator: firstname.lastname@example.org or email@example.com Tel: (Cheltenham) 01242 674839 Mobile: 07776 036 884 Dr Peter Boait PV Project Technical Advisor: (and member of the congregation) Exergy Devices Ltd 07740 644211 For more details on church activities visit www.bethesda-church.org.uk