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Its faith in wind energy lets church see the light

A cleaner power -- not only a higher one -- is lighting up an Amherst church.

Unitarian Universalist Church of Amherst is the first congregation in the state to purchase 100 percent of its power via wind energy -- a more expensive but environmentally friendly way to meet electric needs.

The congregation's board of trustees agreed to spend $1,500 more on electricity this year to ensure that the church's power comes through windmill farms, rather than nuclear plants, coal-burning stations or other polluting sources.

Church members said the decision was in keeping with a principle of the Unitarian Universalist faith that calls for a commitment to environmental stewardship.

"We think it's clearly the right thing to do," said Walter Simpson, a congregation member who buys wind energy for his home and helped the church in its effort.

The church, located at 6320 Main St., signed an agreement to purchase wind energy for a year from Community Energy, a Philadelphia-based wind power firm with wind farms in Pennsylvania and New York. It joins about 10,000 residential, municipal and commercial consumers of wind energy in the state, including the University at Buffalo.

Niagara Mohawk Power Corp. continues to deliver the electricity, a mix of power from plants and generators connected to its grid. But the grid must take in enough wind energy to cover the amount used by the church and others who request wind.

"For anyone who is buying wind right now, the thought is, we're doing it because we want to see more wind energy generated in New York State," said Simpson, who also works as energy officer for university facilities at UB.

About a half-dozen churches throughout the state use wind to meet a portion of their electric needs, but Amherst Unitarian Universalist Church is the first to wean itself from other sources that emit carbon dioxide, sulfur dioxide and nitrogen oxide, said Ron Kamen, a Community Energy vice president. "Most denominations these days have come out with positions on global climate change, pollution and environmental stewardship," he said.

It currently costs about 2 cents more per kilowatt-hour to purchase wind energy rather than conventional power.

The congregation of about 200 members created a "green fund" earlier this year to pay for the extra costs of the wind energy.

Wind energy accounts for less than 1 percent of all the power produced for consumers in the state, Kamen said, but New York has the potential for enough wind power to supply 20 percent of the state's electricity needs.

e-mail: jtokasz@buffnews.com

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