Church members visit solar garden site

Members of several local Unitarian Universalist churches look at panels during a visit to their solar garden this month. the solar garden to which they subscribe earlier this month. Submitted photo

Members of several local Unitarian Universalist churches visited the solar garden to which they subscribe earlier this month.

Members of First Universalist Church of Minneapolis, First Unitarian Society of Minneapolis and Minnesota Valley Unitarian Universalist Fellowship toured the TJ Farms Solar Garden near Clearwater, Minnesota, on Sept. 16. They met with the garden’s developers and learned more about the mechanics of the 25-acre garden.

About 125 households from the churches subscribe to the garden, said Bill Elwood, who leads the environmental justice team at First Universalist, adding that the garden is basically full. But Elwood also added that the garden developer, California-based Cypress Creek Renewables, has other greater Twin Cities area gardens for those interested in subscribing.

Elwood said the churches’ involvement in the solar garden began in 2014, when they worked to recruit participants. The garden took several years to develop and began supplying power earlier this year.

Subscribers such as Elwood receive electricity as they normally would through Xcel Energy. But Xcel provides them with a bill credit for the electricity the garden generates, and the garden developer charges them a monthly subscription for their solar garden allocation. Elwood said he saves about 10 percent on his electricity bills through the arrangement.

Unitarian Universalists believe that everything is interrelated, Elwood said, adding that such belief requires them to take responsibility for the environment. He noted that each of the participating churches has an environmental-justice group working on projects to address soil, water or renewable energy.