OAKLAND — Climate change is making power outages and outages more common, and it’s hitting working-class neighborhoods the hardest. but the church in Oakland became a model for providing shelter in these situations.
Drive through East Oakland and there’s something you don’t see very often – rooftop solar panels.
Working class neighborhoods cost more because the wealthy are more energy independent.
At Faith Baptist Church, Pastor Curtis Robinson raised money to go solar about seven years ago.
“When I bought the solar panels, I said, ‘Let’s deal with battery storage later,'” he said. “They said, ‘What do you mean?’ I said, ‘Yeah, we got solar power — let’s keep it!'”
The solar panels have reduced the church’s energy bill to about $10 a month. But it’s the battery system that lights up the pastor’s enthusiasm.
“If I turn that switch off, we’re completely off the grid — completely! We’re just running on power from these panels,” Robinson explained. “Man, it’s like beating the Empire, right? It’s the little people winning, you know?”
That victory for the little people was celebrated with a ribbon cutting on Sunday as the church became Auckland’s first official ‘Climate Resilience Centre’.
Thanks to an organization called California Interfaith Power and Light, the church received a Greenbuild Legacy Project Award with a total of $85,000 to purchase battery equipment.
Funding came from grants from the US Green Building Council, the EPA and the City of Oakland. The idea is to create energy-safe spaces where people can gather during disasters like earthquakes, wildfires or days when the power grid is overloaded.
David Johnson, who was on the committee that selected the church for the award, said he was pleased the energy project had achieved its goal of social equality.
“Imagine if all the churches and congregations in our neighborhood that are overcrowded could become a center for sustainability,” Johnson said. “There will be times of darkness, and so people who need a bit of protection, security – maybe even a night light or a place to heat a meal – will be able to come here.”
Until now, when disasters struck, relief shelters were set up quickly. City councilman Dan Kalb said climate change is making these types of incidents more common, and every community needs shelter centers that are permanently set up during power outages.
“We need to make sure that we have places in the city of Oakland, in the East Bay, in the Bay Area, across the state that can adapt and be ready to help people when these things happen,” Kalb said.
That was exactly what the priest had in mind.
“I’m going offline, America!” Robinson said with his finger on the key. “This is what every American should do. Get off the grid! Here we go!”