Last week, Bishop Knisely, Canon Dena Cleaver-Bartholomew, and Chief Financial Officer Ed Biddle met with members of the Episcopal Church’s Executive Council, who were meeting in Providence, to introduce them to the mission and ministry of the Diocese of Rhode Island. In his portion of the presentation, Ed Biddle talked about our commitment to the care of creation and the challenges we have encountered in developing solar energy. This is an edited version of this presentation:
Through our creation care ministry in the State of Rhode Island, we have learned how difficult it can be to overturn established ways of generating energy, especially when working with large utility holding companies. Even under adverse circumstances, however, we can help shape the dialogue, and in this case, we have been the underdog among giants.
In 2018 the Episcopal Diocese of Rhode Island Convention established a task force to address issues of climate change, environmental justice, pollution, water resources, and stewardship of church-owned properties. This task force has become the ministry we call creation care. The Creation Care Task Force is led by four people, two clergy and two lay, and includes a mix of people who are passionate about the subject, and some who are technical experts.
Even before our creation care ministry was started, way back in 2017, we began the process of establishing a solar farm on unused land that is part of ECC, our summer camp and conference center. The purpose of the solar project was to secure the long-term financial health of the camp and to lower carbon emissions by offering discounted green energy to our churches at a discount of 25 to 30 percent.
While this project is still on track to be completed, our experience can be summed up by a recent NY Times article headline “The US has Billions for Wind and Solar Projects. Good luck Plugging Them In.”
Our project has had the benefit of outstanding technical support, but nevertheless has faced every possible hurdle that the state utility monopoly, Rhode Island Energy, and other regulators could throw our way.
One word describes the fundamental problem we have had: interconnection. If you think of a utility as a series of roads, there are local roads, highways, and superhighways. Utilities have been attempting to burden small projects such as ours with the costs of upgrading highways and superhighways, even when the projects only touch local roads.
We participated in appeals of these unfair practices, and our appeals exposed problems in the regulatory structure. The process of bringing alternate energy sources online is still not ideal, but work that we did has benefited many other applicants and helped level the playing field for projects such as ours.
While interconnection problems have been solved for us now, we continue to face basic permitting procedural delays. By the time our final permits are granted, it will likely be six years since we started the process, and it will be 2024 to 2025 before we see this project complete.
As this project continues, the Creation Care Task Force moves ahead with its work. This past fall, it hosted its first in-person, diocesan-wide creation care conference led by the Rev. Dr. Margaret Bullitt-Jonas. Our Wild Worship Programs—intergenerational outdoor environmental education combined with scripture, prayer, song and spiritual reflection—are partnering with other non-profit organizations in Rhode Island including the Audubon Society and the Nature Conservancy. The Creation Care Task Force is also supporting parish projects including a pollinator garden, an urban food garden, and climate-related disaster planning specific to local needs.
To learn more about the work of the Creation Care Task Force, email firstname.lastname@example.org.
Edited by Rebecca Wilson, Canticle Communications