The Episcopal Diocese of Maine is looking to partner with other faith groups to share access to a large solar farm, like this one by the Quarry Run Dog Park off Ocean Avenue in Portland. Michael Kelley / The Forecaster

PORTLAND — Churches around the state have long joined forces to better their communities. A new effort by the Episcopal Diocese of Maine is looking into the possibility of bringing faith groups together to tap into a jointly controlled solar farm somewhere in the area.

“While there are many questions to be answered, the time to explore moving forward together appears to be now,” said John Hennessey, interim director of the Episcopal Diocese of Maine, which is leading the effort. “We have about 40 Episcopal churches in the (Central Maine Power) service area so there is more capacity for others. Hopefully, we can get enough faith groups together to make it a reality.”

It is not known yet if the groups will create their own farm or use one that already exists.

Ben Shambaugh, dean at St. Luke’s Episcopal Cathedral in Portland, said the effort is in response to Gov. Janet Mills’ goal of having the state be carbon neutral by 2045 along with a law she passed in June making it easier for groups to come together to purchase from solar farms.

“Just like you might have a community garden, you can have a solar farm where groups can take shares of the power generated in the jointly controlled resource,” said Robert Stoddard, a member of St. Alban’s Episcopal Church in Cape Elizabeth.

The membership at St. Luke’s Episcopal Cathedral on State Street has taken a number of measures to reduce the building’s energy efficiency and is now exploring the feasibility of solar energy. Michael Kelley / The Forecaster

St. Luke’s has been taking incremental steps towards becoming more energy efficient, such as exclusively using LED bulbs, conducting an energy audit and upgrading heating equipment, Shambaugh said. Conducting a solar project on its own would be difficult, if not impossible, for the church, he said, because the 150-year-old building is in a historic district and has a slate roof that is facing the wrong direction. Because of this, the church decided to look to solar power in other ways, including partnering with other faith groups.

Having faith groups come together to explore the feasibility of solar power, he said, “is a very big and positive step” toward building on the governor’s goals.

Although it is being lead by The Episcopal Diocese of Maine, Stoddard and Shambaugh said the effort is aimed at involving all communities of faith, not just Episcopal churches. So far, 20 groups have joined the cause, including St. Luke’s Cathedral and First Parish Church in Portland, The Episcopal Church of St. Mary and Foreside Community Church in Falmouth, and St. Alban’s Episcopal Church in Cape Elizabeth.

The effort, if successful, will have several benefits. Stoddard said it will result in lower, more stable energy costs and allow the faith communities to be better stewards of the environment. The solar farm would provide the electricity for the places of worship as well as other buildings, such as parish halls and clergy housing.

“It’s great when you can accomplish both those things. It is better financially and it is a visible action toward a more sustainable future,” he said.

Shambaugh said he hopes the initiative will help inspire others to look into solar and renewable energy as well. On Saturday, the Episcopal Diocese of Maine met and overwhelmingly passed a resolution supporting solar farms and encouraging its churches to participate in the effort.

“We are only one congregation, but we have 670 members,” he said. “Imagine what would happen if every single family involved here goes back to their house and does an energy audit or redoes their heating system; the ripple affect of this is huge. My goal is to be a model not only for other churches, but all our members as well.”

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