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Vestry thoughts on solar projecft

In the first half of 2020, Abingdon was approached by TriGlobal Energy about a possible lease of our land for a solar power project.  At the August 2020 meeting, the vestry shared their thoughts with one another on the project before voting.  That time of listening to one another was valuable.  It did not make the vestry of one mind, but it gave a reminder that we are one body.  So that you have the benefit of knowing the thoughts and prayers of your vestry on this matter, each vestry person was invited to provide a statement of up to 250 words.  These statements will hopefully help us remember that we are one body. We can vote to accept or reject the solar project, but we will do so as a community in Christ.

Sherie Austin

As a vestry, we have spent months learning about the proposed solar project. We have heard from environmentalists, walked the grounds, discussed potential drawbacks, and reviewed potential benefits. We have debated. We have prayed.

Through it all, I kept coming back to the parable of the talents (Matthew 25:14-30). Two servants are praised for investing the money their master entrusted to them, while a third is condemned for hiding the money away out of fear. Our church is blessed with land that is already serving a monetary purpose as a regularly harvested tree farm. The solar field would fulfill that same productive purpose but to a greater degree. The solar field would also generate renewable energy to heat our homes and keep the lights on with less reliance on burning fossil fuels. We have been entrusted with a large parcel of land and its use as a solar farm will benefit our church for years to come. We should seize this opportunity and look forward to the benefits both our church and community could receive as a result.

Almighty and ever living God, ruler of all things in heaven and earth, hear or prayers for this parish family. Bring us all to be of one heart and mind within your holy Church, through Jesus Christ our Lord. Amen.

Terri Byrne

As we prepare for our parish’s annual meeting, I’d like to thank you for the opportunity to serve on the vestry.  This first year has had many challenges, and I’m deeply grateful that Abingdon has a rector and a vestry that are thoughtful, considerate, and prayerful in their discernments.

 At the annual meeting we will present two resolutions. The first, to harvest the timber that was planted in 1987 with the intent to harvest and to provide income to Abingdon. I fully support the resolution.

The second resolution will influence Abingdon’s mission for at least the next two decades, as did the first resolution. When the proposal for a solar project was first brought to the vestry, I called each of my vestry contacts.  You expressed your concerns and questions.  All of these have been thoroughly studied and addressed.  After many months, countless hours of discussion and in-depth studies of the impact of having a solar power site, I fully endorse the second resolution.

We, Abingdon Church, have the responsibility to be good stewards of our resources and to do all we can to support our community and our world.  These resolutions will serve community needs, and will provide annual income to the church.

“Almighty God, whose loving hand has given us all that we possess: Grant us grace that we may honor you with our substance, and, remembering the account which we must one day give, may be faithful stewards of your bounty, through Jesus Christ our Lord.” AMEN

Warren Haley

Background- a number of years ago, my wife Helen, the realtor, found that the property surrounding the church was for sale and brought that to vestry as an opportunity to buy the land so the church could control its use. Had vestry not chosen to procure the land, we might have a shopping center or housing development surround our church today. A number of years ago that vestry, supported by an advisory vote by the congregation, decided to go into the timbering business to get some return on our investment and help in the financial support of the church. That decision has bought in some revenue supporting the good works of Abingdon and recently received innovation accolades in the diocesan magazine. Over the years, several ‘land development’ committees have been formed, yielding no recommendations on what else to do with the land that would result in a return on investment or for charitable value. So today we are presented with a potential offer that would increase our return on investment by over a million dollars over the next 25 years and to participate in the use of ‘clean energy’ in the world.

My recommendation and that of most of this vestry is that we pursue this financial opportunity a do long as the project is not visible from the church grounds and proffers are set aside for remediation of the land at the end of the project for any reason.  Since we are altering the land for profit anyway by cutting down trees, we might as well garner an additional million dollars doing so. Make no mistake- this is a financial decision, not a spiritual one.  Any church needs money to operate. You quickly learn this when you serve on vestry (and I urge you to do so). Deciding to use this parcel for revenue may help us to be able to use another parcel for very little remuneration and more charitable use such as a learning institution, elderly facility, or hospice house. I urge you to approve the solar project, advising vestry to proceed with the appropriate conditions. Peace…...

Natalie Johnson

For several months the Vestry has been intently deliberating about how to best go forward with the stewardship of managing our land.  We have endeavored to determine the best way to move forward. 

There are now two resolutions that need to be addressed. One is a resolution to timber a portion of the property on Featherbed lane.  It has been approximately 30yrs since this land was last timbered. Timbering is in accordance with the best practice for land use of this type.  I fully support this resolution. The second resolution is to decide whether or not we want to enter into a contract with TGE to lease the property (39-130 and 39-131) for the purpose of developing a solar facility.  I definitely have mixed feelings about this one.  The land in question is currently zoned as Bayside Rural Resources.  It is intended to support sustainable agricultural and forestry uses while allowing limited residential development.  In order for Tri Global to accomplish their mission, this land use would have to be rezoned.  I am not sure that is the best stewardship of this land. However, the funds we derive from such a project could potentially put in a position to support larger Outreach projects. Prayerfully submitted.

David Meeker

Annual Meeting are always important events.  This is an especially important Annual Meeting for you to attend as we are not only to choose 4 new Vestry members and receive parish updates, but also to consider two significant matters.

The first matter, the Timber Resolution, is to approve phase 2 of the 2017 Tree Farm Plan from our forestry consultant.  After earlier Congregational approval, we have completed phase 1 of the harvest.  Based on the peak maturity of the trees, I support and recommend passage of the Timber Resolution.

The second matter, the Solar Resolution, is to approve leasing 88 acres of land for use as a solar power production facility being developed by Tri Global Energy (“TGE”).  The lease negotiated addresses the principal Vestry and parishioner concerns which were 1) preventing any visibility of the project from our church and cemetery grounds;  2) assuring that any decommissioning, removal and clean-up costs would be borne by the facility, done in an environmentally conscious manner, and bonded to assure such performance;  and 3) that the facility developers, contractors and operators would be sufficiently insured to protect Abingdon.  See accompanying Background materials. 

With these protections, I believe we are being good stewards to lease this land and receive significant revenues (e.g., 66 acres (allowing for wetlands and buffer exclusions) x $800/acre = $52,800 per year or $1,320,000 in 25 year initial lease term) to primarily bolster Abingdon’s good works efforts.  Therefore, I support and recommend passage of the Solar Resolution.  

Bill Naquin

I am categorically opposed to this project. While I support renewable energy, I do not believe this is the right choice for us. I believe it would be a tragedy to clear-cut the land behind the church, land that was sold to us on favorable terms that it might be preserved from development  It is my hope that after the pandemic we can come together and discuss land use issues generally, define our values and financial needs, balance these with the desire of many of the congregation to preserve our greenspace, and then, after intensively listening to the wishes of all our members, articulate a comprehensive plan for the preservation and potential development of our lands.

For months, I have asked the vestry to forego this project, to wait until it is safe for us to hold a series of meetings to discuss the future of our lands. I have opposed and do oppose the holding of a vote on this project when so many of our members, disproportionally the elderly and the infirm, who are sheltering in place as the virus rages, are disenfranchised through their inability to participate and make their wishes known. I further recognize that many feel they have not been kept sufficiently abreast of the details of this vast industrial project, and that they are now rushed to consider the conclusions this vestry has come to.

It is my fervent prayer that the congregation will preserve our historic campus and precious greenspace.

Tom Pachla

Why I voted to pursue the solar farm project. There were several reasons for my yes vote.  First and foremost, reason was that with the potential steady stream of income, we as a church could do so much more outreach and help our local community.  Second, we could use the income to update our parish hall without a capital fundraiser.  I would be opposed to use the income to supplement our yearly budget.  The solar farm would give us a yearly income whereas the income from timbering gives us a once every 25 years.  I have walked the proposed area for the solar project and with proper buffer zone, it should not be visible from the church.  Therefor I continue to support this project.

Winona Pearson

Lord, You invite all who are burdened to come to you. Allow Your healing Hand to heal me. Touch my soul with your compassion for others; touch my heart with your courage and infinite Love for all; touch my mind with your Wisdom, and may my mouth always proclaim your praise. Teach me to reach out to You in all my needs, and help me to lead others to You by my example.  Most loving heart of Jesus, bring me health in body and spirit that I may serve You with all my strength. Touch gently this life, which You have created, now and forever.

The first resolution to be presented at the Annual meeting of Abingdon Episcopal Church is to harvest the timber. As a good steward of Abingdon, and as a member in good standing for the past ten years, I fully support this resolution.

The vestry has spent considerable time and energy discussing the issue of the solar farm. The second resolution is to determine if the congregation of Abingdon Episcopal Church is in favor of such a project, and to sign a contract with TriGlobal. As a good steward of Abingdon, I support this resolution. The revenue generated from the proposed solar farm will allow Abingdon to further enhance our outreach efforts, and to explore new outreach opportunities. Thank you for allowing me to serve as a member of the vestry during this time.

Sharon Stone

Whenever I try to discern God’s leading in a situation, the one thing that always makes me sit up and pay attention is what I call a “ping:” sort of an internal bell chiming in my head or heart or spirit.  When I heard that Abingdon could be part of the Tri-Global solar project, that ping chimed.  But there were other signs.  The timing was uncanny.  Surely TGE could not have known that the trees on the parcel in question were due to be harvested soon.  The congregation would have begun talking about what to do with the cleared land either this year or next, so this was not disrupting our schedule but rather dovetailing with it.  I was wary of being approached by a company as yet unknown to us, but David Meeker testified to us about the above-board behavior and dialogue he’d had with TGE.  Add to that that we are presented with the opportunity to be part of the solution to this planet’s fossil fuel problem – a cause I support.  Finally, the terms of payment and other logistics such as screening the site from view and restoring the land to its previous or better state at the end of the lease helped commend this project as worthy of consideration.  I don’t, as a rule, believe in coincidence.  Instead, this opportunity seems to have landed in our laps and I daresay it came directly from the hand of Providence.

Keith Webb

I am a proponent of clean energy. Professionally, I spent a good part of my career managing energy consumption and pursuing alternate technologies to decrease consumption.  I hope to set our world, or at least my little corner of it, on a course that my grandchildren will appreciate.  Of the currently known clean energy sources, solar and wind seem the most promising. Neither is without some drawbacks. Life is full of choices.  As I consider this solar project, you should know that I live down Featherbed Lane, which this project fronts on the north side.  This means I'll be forsaking forest views in exchange for solar panels if this measure passes. Every day. Still I believe we owe our children and grandchildren the effort to leave our planet a little better than we found it. Continued reliance on fossil fuels for primary energy generation is a costly and finite answer to our energy needs as a nation.  Please vote to approve this action so we can show our commitment to the world and our community that we practice what we preach. 

Frank West

I am thankful to each parishioner and vestry member for spending so much time on discernment of the solar proposal. Each of us has an abiding love for our buildings and property.  With our ability to put large buffers in place, the solar project will not be visible from our church or from the graveyard.  I am confident that a future visitor to our church wouldn’t know the solar farm was there. 

The solar project would provide about 1.5 million dollars in revenue over a 30-year period.  With the demographics of our parish, what is our projection for pledged income over the next 30 years? I hope and pray our income remains strong, but it seems wise to plan for a "rainy day" where we may not have as many people pledging. 

To that point, what if solar farm funds are what keeps Abingdon on solid financial ground several decades from now? Perhaps these funds help keep our vibrant music program going or fund ongoing panther packs, or help us offer competitive pay to a future rector. What new outreach program may be possible with these funds?

The vestry has collectively spent hundreds of hours vetting this proposal.  The solar farm is a sustainable energy project that would benefit our parish for decades to come. Your vestry has voted decisively in favor of the project.  Regardless of the outcome of this vote, our parish will carry on in faith and with love for each other.