A small, century-old church in a historically Black neighborhood of Norfolk, Virginia, has lowered its energy costs and carbon pollution by going solar.

“It’s not every day that you see a 52-foot solar array mounted on the ground in an urban neighborhood,” says Rev. Brandon Praileau of Wesley Union AME Zion Church in the Olde Huntersville neighborhood of Norfolk. “Our neighbors and our community members, even during the construction, would stop and say, ‘Pastor, what’s going on? What are y’all doing here?’ So it became a talking point for the church and a way for us to engage the community about what we were doing.”

The church partnered with Norfolk Solar, an organization that funds solar installations in low-income communities.

The church is paying for the panels over time but still saving money overall because its utility bills are so much lower.

So Praileau says the project has enabled the church to put more money toward outreach.

“[We’re] trying to help low-income families, whether it be with food, clothing, or any kind of assistance the church is able to offer,” he says.

And he says the highly visible array has helped spark conversations in the community about the potential of renewable energy to save people money and care for God’s creation.

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Reporting credit: Sarah Kennedy/ChavoBart Digital Media