On the longest day of the year, with the sun shining brightly overhead, environmental, religious and utility leaders gathered Saturday at the first Chattanooga church to turn the power of the sun into electricity.
The Unitarian Universalist Church of Chattanooga installed a 3 kilowatt photovoltaic system on the roof of its Brainerd church last month and recently received its first payment for the solar power -- a $35.40 check from EPB.
Dr. Olin Ivey, a retired United Methodist pastor and board member for the National Religious Coalition on Creation Care, urged other churches to "go and do likewise" to help use the sun and other renewable sources to replace power from burning fossil fuels linked to air pollution and global warming.
"There are 800 churches dotting the landscape of Chattanooga and this is the first local church to install solar panels," Ivey told a church gathering Saturday as part of the national "Put Solar On it" celebration on the first day of summer.
"Think how much pollution and global warming would be reduced if all churches in Chattanooga did this. All life emanates from the sun and with more than 14 hours of sunlight today, this is a perfect day for this celebration."
The Unitarian Universalist church placed 12 solar panels on the roof of its Navajo Drive building near Interstate 24. The panels are among more than 1,900 solar installations across the Tennessee Valley. Although solar power represents less than 1 percent of the electricity generated by the Tennessee Valley Authority, solar enthusiasts predict that the sun will play a far bigger role in the future.
Barbara Kelly, co-chairman of the Sierra Club Cherokee chapter, said solar installations are growing as new technologies have cut costs by 70 percent.
Nationwide, solar power generation grew 41 percent last year -- the fastest-growing share of any major electricity generation source. Solar now powers the electricity needs for 3 million U.S. homes, according to the Solar Energy Industries Association.
Dr. Barbara Haskew, a TVA director who lives on Elder Mountain in Chattanooga, said TVA is lessening its dependence upon coal power plants, which once supplied more than two thirds of its electricity.
"The future of TVA lies in a combination of power sources and solar has an important place in that future," she said.
Contact staff writer Dave Flessner at firstname.lastname@example.org or 423-757-6340.