Friday, October 24, 2014 Tishri 30, 5775

Synagogue Suddenly Discovers There's a Windmill in Its Future

August 2, 2007 By:
Jared Shelly, JE Feature
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Leaders of the "Powered by Ruach" campaign: (from left, standing) Beth Am Israel president John Harris, executive director Grace Gershkoff, Jeff Levine, Rabbi Michael Bernstein, and (kneeling) Mike Weilbacher and Fred Baurer. The blades on the drawing of the windmill marked the completion of pledges to pay for a full year of wind energy.

John Harris never had so many people ask him the same exact question: Was Congregation Beth Am Israel getting ready to put a windmill on its roof?

The answer was no, said Harris, but the Penn Valley shul is moving its electric power to the greener side of things, ditching regular service for PECO Wind.

The program will allow the synagogue to purchase blocks of wind-generated energy, rather than coal or nuclear energy that can potentially harm the environment.

"At Beth Am, we see our congregation addressing how we live in the world," said Harris, president of the 25,000-square-foot synagogue. "Environmental issues are extremely important to our members and to the world, so we decided we could make a difference."

The program will cost $18 per day above and beyond Beth Am's normal electricity bill, so leaders have asked congregants to "buy a day" during a fundraising campaign. The synagogue has already raised enough money to power the building for an entire year, according to Harris.

"We're willing to pay that additional cost to know that we've reduced pollution to the best of our ability," said Harris.

Entering the PECO Wind program does not mean that the power running through Beth Am will automatically be converted to wind power. It does mean, however, that whatever Beth Am uses will be bought from wind farms and placed on PECO's power grid, along with other sources, like coal and nuclear power, explained Cameron Kline, spokesman for PECO.

"It's like a bath tub. Everyone dumps in water, but it only comes out one way," said Kline.

He said that he wasn't certain how many other area synagogues may have switched to PECO Wind because accounts for religious institutions are often listed under an individual's name.

Harris hopes that now that carbon-dioxide emissions have been reduced at Beth Am, the move will resonate with members, and perhaps propel them to convert to wind power in their own homes.

"This will raise awareness for our congregants," he said, "and they will have the ability to do this for themselves."

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