Tracking Energy Savings with Portfolio Manager

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by Dorothy Grimes

It has been almost fifty years since Lynn White (“The Historical Roots of Our Ecological Crisis,” 1967) argued that “we shall continue to have a worsening ecologic crisis until we reject the Christian axiom that nature has no reason for existence save to serve man.” White concluded, however, that “since the roots of our trouble are so largely religious, the remedy must also be essentially religious, whether we call it that or not. We must rethink and refeel our nature and destiny.” Pope Francis’s recent encyclical Praise Be to You: On Care for Our Common Home seems to indicate that many congregations of many faiths are doing precisely what White said that we must do.

Churches are working through denominational programs and interfaith programs to green their congregations. The PCUSA Earth Care Congregation program, overseen by the Environmental Ministries office of the Presbyterian Hunger Program, encourages Presbyterian churches to care for God’s earth and certifies those that have affirmed the Earth Care Pledge and taken holistic actions in earth care in the fields of worship, education, facilities and outreach. Interfaith groups, such as Green Faith and Interfaith Power and Light, provide materials, guidance, and inspiration for caring for the earth.

Yet many congregations are not aware of a free tool that will help them to operate their buildings in an environmentally friendly way. EPA’s Energy Star Portfolio Manager was designed because “you can’t manage what you don’t measure.” Having a benchmark for the energy use is the first step toward finding ways to conserve energy.

Portfolio Manager is now used to benchmark 40 percent of U.S. commercial building space. Updated in 2013, it is also used “by more than half of the Fortune 100®, half of the largest U.S. healthcare organizations, major league sports teams, colleges and universities, and entire cities.”

For churches, Portfolio Manager can be useful both for large congregations with multiple buildings and for small congregations with smaller property responsibilities. But the comprehensive scope of this interactive database program—the fact that it is designed for so many types of buildings over a broad region—may make it a bit overwhelming for beginning users. Although Portfolio Manager is not a program specifically for churches, a guide to Energy Star Portfolio written specifically for PCUSA churches is now available. A recent Power Point webinar, PC(USA) Energy “Tithe” Challenge, attempts to document some of the experiences of both large and small churches and to challenge Presbyterian congregations to set a goal of at least 10% energy savings.

Montevallo Presbyterian Church is an example of how Energy Star Portfolio Manager can work in small places and old facilities. It guided a church of about 50 members in a town of fewer than 7,000 people to remodel and maintain a building that is over 100 years old. The need to remodel our building in 2008 to make it handicapped accessible provided the opportunity to make wise energy choices, and Portfolio Manager has since enabled us to measure the impact of those choices and of subsequent ones.

That is not to say that the road has been without setbacks. In October 2014, our congregation lost elder Bill Peters, who had led our Green Team since its inception, and we sorely miss both his leadership and his knowledge base as a retired environmental manager. A less lasting setback (and in retrospect a somewhat humorous one) was the discovery last winter that a family of raccoons had made a home in the church attic and shredded all the HVAC ducts.

Getting started is relatively simple. Churches need a volunteer to learn the program basics and take responsibility for entering data either monthly or quarterly. Before utility data can be entered, an account must be created, and doing so requires answers to seven basic questions about each property to be benchmarked:

  1. Gross Floor Area (square foot)
  2. Seating Capacity (number of seats)
  3. Number of weekdays open (Monday through Friday)
  4. Weekly operating hours
  5. Number of Personal Computers
  6. Presence of cooking facilities (Yes/No)
  7. Number of Commercial Refrigeration/Freezer Units

Long distance runners often say, “The hardest step is the first step out the door.” For churches seeking a tool for energy conservation, Portfolio Manager can be that first step.

Dorothy Grimes is a member of the Green Team of Montevallo Presbyterian Church in Montevallo, Alabama. Contact her at brierworld@gmail.com.