Powering Faith with Clean Energy

By Ruthie Redmond [email protected]

Pastor Curtis Robinson is the Senior Pastor of Faith Baptist Church, which has served the East Oakland, California community for over 40 years. A graduate of Trinity Theological Seminary at Bishop College (Dallas, TX) and Harvard University Divinity Fellow (2019), Pastor Robinson previously worked on Wall Street with investment banking firms where he became familiar with solar energy technology and its various uses. His introduction to solar was via photovoltaic producer Ascent Solar Technology, and their business proposition to put solar panels on blimps and satellites for use by the government and NASA. 

It became clear to Pastor Robinson that it was time to stop reaching down into hell to bring up dirty energy and reach to heaven for clean energy. For a time before it was bought out, he was involved with Fisker Automotive, which produced one of the world's first luxury plug-in hybrid electric vehicles. 

Pastor Robinson recognized the vast possibilities of solar and his love of renewable technology led him to an understanding of how fuel cells could be used in humanitarian efforts. The Founder of Bloom Energy, KR Sridhar, wanted to create oxygen on Mars with fuel cells delivering a continuous on-site energy source. While Mars was a bit out of the way, Pastor Robinson envisioned similar technology being used as part of efforts to electrify regions like rural Africa, which may not have another source of electricity.

Deciding to start locally, Pastor Robinson expanded upon the works of the Faith Baptist Church Food Giving Program, which has been in full force in Alameda County, distributing 100 tons of food annually (with many who distribute food having previously been in line to receive it). With the help of a strategic relationship with the Leonardo DiCaprio Foundation matching donations, Faith Baptist launched a campaign and raised money for a solar project in just three hours. 

Photo Credit: Faith Baptist Church Facebook Page

From there the Pastor worked with RE-volv Solar for Nonprofits to get the church’s solar program up and running. The process consisted of numerous site visits and meetings with RE-volv, investment bankers, the West Oakland Environmental Indicators Project, and green energy seminars with the City of Oakland. The whole process took roughly one and a half years for Faith Baptist Church to be equipped with a new roof and solar panels.  

Upfront costs of the project would have been around $35,000 for panels and installation. Through the RE-volv program, however, Faith Baptist leases the panels for $92/month with a 20-year lease, at the end of which the panels will be owned by the church. Since February 2018, the church has realized a savings of 50% of their annual electricity costs. In fact, their bill statements are now negative!

Photo Credit: Google Maps

As Pastor Robinson believes that a House of Worship’s first job is to take care of Eden and be exponential in its goodness, he has now determined for Faith Baptist Church to become a reseller of the energy that is being captured. He is also working to remove barriers of being on the grid—which needs to evolve to accommodate distributed solar and be more flexible in meeting energy needs. A student of Dr. Cornel West, Pastor Robinson suggests that churches rid themselves of religious and institutional hubris to better see opportunities like these as a way to serve their communities.