Area synagogues shifting to cleaner power

Temple Sinai Rabbi Jonathan Roos, left, and congregation member, Adam Prill, on the roof of Temple Sinai’s sanctuary with solar panels behind them.Photo courtesy of Temple Sinai
Temple Sinai Rabbi Jonathan Roos, left, and congregation member, Adam Prill, on the roof of Temple Sinai’s sanctuary with solar panels behind them.
Photo courtesy of Temple Sinai

By Joshua Marks

Dirty energy is treif, according to Linda Gore, and clean energy is kosher.

Gore, chair of Shaare Torah Congregation’s Green Team, uses Jewish dietary law terminology to describe why the Gaithersburg congregation decided in June to start supporting wind power projects by enrolling in a Renewable Energy Credit (REC) purchasing program.

Gore says the wind initiative has created a “big buzz of excitement” at Shaare Torah. One congregant has both geothermal and solar power in his home, according to Gore, who says she hopes more congregants consider converting to clean energy.

“People are really excited about it. It’s a very forward thinking congregation and Rabbi [Jacob] Blumenthal is so interested in doing everything we can about greening in general,” says Gore. “All the leadership at Shaare Torah is very supportive.”

Whether supporting wind or installing rooftop solar, more local congregations are shifting to cleaner power.

While wind does not directly supply the building with electricity, a portion of the congregation’s utility bill is used by Shaare Torah’s electricity supplier to buy a number of RECs equivalent to the amount of electricity the congregation uses. Each REC is proof of one megawatt produced from wind or another renewable resource.

Joelle Novey, director of Greater Washington Interfaith Power & Light, an organization that helps faith institutions respond to climate change, says that supporting RECs is a “meaningful green choice” that helps to “create a robust market for the development of clean energy projects.”

Greater Washington Interfaith Power & Light and its partner Groundswell, a nonprofit that gathers individual institutions into clean energy buying groups to negotiate better rates, worked with Shaare Torah on its wind power initiative.

“For local Jewish communities to direct a portion of their energy dollars to support wind energy generation, even though it doesn’t physically change anything about the delivery of electricity to their building, is an important way of really making sure their energy bills reflect their Jewish values,” says Novey.

Some local congregations have gone a step further by ensuring that their electricity is generated by clean power.

Temple Sinai is installing solar panels on its roof, with more than half the roof covered so far, according to Rabbi Jonathan Roos. He anticipates that within the next month the solar panels will be fully set up and generating clean electricity from the sun.

“It’s an example of how we — or any congregation — can put our values into practice, not only through the worship that literally goes on in the sanctuary but the space itself,” says Roos. “It makes a much more holistic and enriched form of Jewish community and worship to know that you’re in a space that has right above you all these solar panels and the building itself is powered by it.”

The Northwest Washington synagogue also participates in a residential solar co-op to help members install rooftop solar on their homes. The solar co-cop is supported by nonprofit DC SUN, a project of the Community Power Network that provides technical expertise and other guidance to help navigate the process of going solar.

More than 50 families have participated, according to Roos.

Tikvat Israel Congregation in Rockville installed 350 rooftop solar panels more than two years ago. According to Executive Director Sam Freedenberg, the solar panels have generated 162,000 kilowatt-hours of energy. That represents 97 tons of carbon dioxide emissions avoided and an offset of 14,296 gallons of gasoline.

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