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Synagogues Reduce Energy Costs (CJN February 2011)

This article originally appeared in the Canadian Jewish News on February 17, 2011

What role should a synagogue play in helping its members live a more sustainable existence? Should a synagogue lead by example or just respond to the requirements of their boards and their members. Are we dealing with a business decision or a spiritual imperative?

Rabbi Voss-Altman of Temple B’nai Tikvah in Calgary was one of the first in the Canadian Reform movement to dedicate one of his Shabbat talks to putting a green spin on Parshat Noach. His talk focused on the responsibility mankind was given to have stewardship over the earth and to take care of the planet. The Reform movement has even dedicated time and resources to helping its congregations become more sustainable. [http://bit.ly/tsj1102-01]

The rabbi brought an interesting proposition to his congregation in 2007 after visiting the local Ikea, and finding out that it was powered by renewable energy from southern Alberta wind farms. The synagogue board agreed to the spiritual value of renewable energy and agreed to pay the premium for this power once the Rabbi secured a synagogue member willing to sponsor the effort. The Rabbi succeeded in finding a member connected with the oil industry, willing to be that sponsor. Today, the Temple is “Bullfrog Powered” and draws renewable energy from the Alberta power grid. [http://bit.ly/tsj1102-02]

Alan Levine and Michael Charendoff of the Reconstructionist Egalitarian Congregation Darchei Noam, recently took me on a tour of their building on Sheppard west of Wilmington. The former Adath Shalom Congregation building was bought by Darchei Noam in 2004 and was re-skinned with a new exterior and a third floor addition and reopened in January 2008.

Various congregational committees were involved in the selection of heating, cooling, and water systems, ensuring the building could operate in an environmentally respectful way. Sustainable materials were chosen to create a comfortable and inviting interior, minimizing environment impact.

Today, the congregation reduces its overall energy costs by selling electricity from 22 roof mounted solar panels back to the Ontario power grid. The energy consumption of the building, when normalized by square footage is significantly less than other institutional buildings. [http://bit.ly/tsj1102-03]

In Ontario, electricity rates are expected to increase by 46% in the next 5 years, independent of pre-election 10% rebates. Very shortly, time of use charging will extend from residential homes to institutional buildings such as synagogues and communal organizations funded by the UJA Federation.

Are lower 5 year fixed electricity rates being offered to these institutions really as attractive once you map energy consumption to the time it is consumed? Once you add the Global Adjustment cost into proposals currently in front of these institutions, do the expected savings still remain? [http://bit.ly/tsj1102-04]

“We believe that communal organizations should focus their budgets on providing services to their constituents. More funds are available for the Jewish mission when operational cost savings around energy consumption are put in place. ”, says Gary Siepser , Senior Vice President, UJA Federation of Greater Toronto. “Organizations need to benchmark building energy consumption and make it visible to drive improvements. We are aware of energy efficiency efforts currently underway and will be calling together representatives of our stakeholder community to share best practices, identify programs and methodologies they can leverage and help them avoid known pitfalls”.

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