Meet Menno Haven's Green Team: Franklin County senior citizens helping to save the planet
At Mennohaven's retirement community, a tight-knit group of like-minded activists has a reason to celebrate.
This "Green Team" convinced Menno Haven's board and a community of residents to raise enough funds to install a 53.6 kW solar panel system, which consists of 134 solar panels atop Menno Haven’s Life Center.
John Luetzelschwab has been the Green Team's coordinator for years. About 90% of residents in the community were supportive of the effort, he said.
Each year, the electricity generated by the solar system will offset 47 tons of CO2 or 99.2 barrels of oil. That works out to saving 1,094 trees, according to a press release.
The solar panels, installed by Paradise Energy Solutions, will generate 60,000 kWh, which provides over $4,000 of electricity each year. Additionally, the system can make Menno Haven an extra $1,000 each year from the sale of Solar Renewable Energy Credits.
The Green Team started their sustainability work back in 2010 when they pushed for residents to begin recycling.
"We started with paper recycling," Luetzelschwab said. "We then started encouraging other recycling. We've gotten into recycling all batteries. We do a medications collection twice a year and usually generate about two or three gallons of medications for the police to come on campus and pick them up."
Solar is simply a part of a bigger picture, Luetzelschwab said.
Wayne Mackey, another Green Team member, suggested the idea when he moved to Menno Haven and realized there was a group focused on green living.
"I was surprised about the Green Team and I thought, 'wow, this is something I might be really interested in,'" he said. "I met John and we spent months emailing back and forth about the benefits of solar energy. We basically wanted to reduce the size of our carbon footprint here at Menno Haven."
Mackey and his wife installed solar panels on their home in Chambersburg in 2009.
"We were actually the first house in the borough of Chambersburg to put solar on our house," he said. "In 2011, we added more solar panels. We finally wound up with 43 solar panels on our house roof and garage roof. I bought a Chevy Volt and powered it with eight solar panels on the garage roof. In early 2018, the U.S. Department of Energy awarded us the zero net energy home."
Don Parrish, another Green Team member, explained the financial benefit as well.
"It peels off a small slice of the cost of electricity, but nonetheless, some is better than none," he said. "Everyone lives at Menno Haven, so it's in their interest to see that solar is used to benefit everybody."
Parrish also brought up the idea of encouraging the switch to electric vehicles.
"If we can get a powerful solar source, we could use some of that to power electric vehicles and change our fleet here at Menno Haven," he said.
Hugh Davis, Menno Haven's CEO, said the group has been influential in these changes.
"I've learned a lot from them about corporate responsibility and the responsibility of Menno Haven as an organization to leave a better footprint for the generation that comes behind," he said. "John has on a couple of occasions been in front of our board. Seeing that advocacy from a resident standpoint and with the board of directors, for that shared vision is a very powerful part of our story."
Davis and the Green Team hope to add more solar panels to the Menno Haven campus in the future.
Davis explained that a partnership with another entity would be necessary for a larger-scale installation, but that it could be beneficial for everyone involved.
"For solar to become somewhat economical for us, we'd really have to do it on a big scale so that we can get those efficiencies, but as well find a partner who may be willing to fund the infrastructure and take the tax credits in exchange," he said.
Luetzelschwab said they are looking out for any opportunities that could help make Menno Haven greener.
"In the short term, we are hoping to apply for a West Penn environmental sustainability grant," he said. "With that, we could add more to the roof."
In addition to the solar project, Menno Haven just finished construction on a 1,200 square foot greenhouse — adding to the self-sustainability model.
Residents Will and Mary Hockersmith donated the funds to build the structure, complete with a fully automated system, a drilled well for clean watering and raised garden beds surrounding the building.
The Green Team, always looking for a chance to collaborate, is planning to kick off a campus-wide composting program that will benefit gardeners at the greenhouse.
Mackey noted why the Green Team feels so compelled to shrink their carbon footprint.
"We are very environmentally conscientious about what we are passing on to future generations," he said.
Carley Bonk is a Watchdog Reporter for the USA Today Network - Pennsylvania. Her coverage spans across the southcentral region of Pennsylvania. She can be reached at firstname.lastname@example.org or on Twitter at @carls_marie.