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Solar setup at Oakland church provides energy security for community

Solar setup at Oakland church provides energy security for community
Solar setup at Oakland church provides energy security for community 02:41

OAKLAND -- Climate change is making power cutoffs and interruptions a common occurrence and that tends to hit working-class neighborhoods the hardest. but a church in Oakland has become a model for providing refuge during those situations.

Take a drive through east Oakland and there's one thing you don't see much --  rooftop solar panels.

It is working-class neighborhoods that bear more of the cost as affluent people become more energy independent.

 At Faith Baptist Church, pastor Curtis Robinson raised money to go solar about seven years ago.

"When we got the solar panels, I was like, 'let's do battery storage next,'" he said. "They're like, 'what do you mean?'  I said, 'yeah, we got the solar -- let's store it!'"

Solar panels have dropped 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 flip that switch off, we are totally off the grid -- totally!  We're just running on energy from these panels," Robinson explained. "Man, it's like beating up the Empire, right?  It's like, the little people win, you know?"

That win for the little people was celebrated on Sunday with a ribbon-cutting as the church became Oakland's first official "Climate Resilience Hub."

Thanks to an organization called California Interfaith Power and Light, the church was the recipient of the Greenbuild Legacy Project Award, along with a total of $85,000 to purchase the battery equipment.

Funding came from grants from the U.S. Green Building Council, the EPA and the city of Oakland. The idea is to create energy-secure places where people can gather during disasters like earthquakes, wildfires or just days when the electric grid is overtaxed.

David Johnson, who was on the committee that selected the church for the award, said he's happy the energy project achieved a social equity goal as well.

"Imagine if all churches and congregations that are already gathering places in our neighborhood could become resiliency hubs," Johnson said. "There will be times of blackout and so those people that need some security, safety -- maybe even just a light at night or a place to warm a meal -- will be able to come here."

Until now, when disasters struck, relief shelters were set up on the fly. City councilman Dan Kalb said climate change is making that kind of event commonplace and every community needs permanently established refuge centers for times when the power goes out.

"We have to make sure that we have places in the city of Oakland, in the East Bay, in the Bay Area, throughout the entire state, that can adapt and be ready to help people when those things happen," Kalb said.

That's exactly what the pastor had in mind.

"I am coming off the grid, America!" Robinson said, with his finger on the switch. "This is what every American should do. Come off the grid!  Here we go!"

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