On Sunday, two dozen members of Adat Shalom Reconstructionist Congregation found themselves in the middle of a 35-acre field in Fort Washington. They were surrounded by thousands of solar panels. Twenty thousand, to be exact.
They came to see where the energy for the homes of 65 synagogue families was coming from. Here at the Panorama Landfill Solar Field Project, which provides energy to customers throughout Maryland, the electricity has been flowing since July.
Adat Shalom got involved with Panorama nearly a year ago, when the Bethesda synagogue’s climate action team was brainstorming a way to get more involved in environmentalism.
“Initially we weren’t sure what to focus on,” said Stuart Simon said, standing at the top of a hill and looking down at the solar panels. “I thought solar energy was a good thing to focus on.”
He discussed his ideas with climate action member Mirele Goldsmith and the two began to come up with ideas on how to get people to subscribe to Panorama’s solar energy. The two began working with Neighborhood Sun, an organization that focuses on bringing solar energy to Maryland. Neighborhood Sun was looking for enough subscribers so its partner, Nautilus Solar Energy, could build the solar field in Fort Washington.
Standing on the hilltop, Nautilus CEO Jim Rice said Panorama is the first large-scale community solar project in the state, serving about 1,100 households. The Panorama field was built on an industrial landfill, where no residential or commercial building is permitted.
“It’s a win-win situation,” Goldsmith said. “The solar field isn’t taking away land that can be used for other things, and it’s using land that can’t be used for anything else.”
The energy is transported through the Pepco grid, so once a person is signed up there’s no upkeep needed on the customer’s part.
Goldsmith said switching to a clean source of energy is almost a mitzvah, a religious duty.
“Judaism recognizes the centrality of the light and the sun’s light. Our ancestors understood thousands of years ago that life exists because of the sun’s daily cycle. Now we can be thankful for a further gift of the sun: clean, safer solar energy. If we harness it, we can save ourselves from the climate change caused by burning fossil fuels,” she said.
“[The field] looks like it was designed a drunken engineer,” said congregant Ken Candor, pointing to how the hill hadn’t been leveled and the lines of the solar panels were uneven. Candor didn’t sign up when his fellow congregants did, but only because he already has solar panels on his roof.
Other Washington-area synagogues have encouraged solar power usage. Shirat Hafenesh in Chevy Chase encourages its members to switch to wind energy. Adat Shalom members helped to get the solar field built and they’re sustaining it through their subscriptions.
Members say that not only are they helping the environment, but the clean energy credits they receive take a bit out of their electric bills.
“I was really pleased,” said Katheryn Gargurevich. “I just got my first bill. My bill is far lower than before.”