The goal was to purchase 105 power packs to generate 100 percent of the electrical use at Unitarian Universalist Fellowship of Ames from solar energy. The members of the church came together and purchased more than 120 for the SunSmart Ames project, a planned solar farm on Airport Road on the city’s south side.

“When we did something really big and exciting, I mean, 100 percent, it happened,” said Allison Brundy, a member of the fellowship.

SunSmart Ames was created in 2017 due to the growing demand for solar energy in the city. The project details a community solar farm in which people can purchase a power pack — roughly half of a full panel — for $333. The purchase would be a one-time payment and include a 20-year contract.

Once the farm is complete, the energy from it would flow into each home, business or organization that bought power packs, and they would get a small amount of money back on their electric bill each month depending on how much energy was produced by the panels.

City officials said 80 percent of the panels have to be purchased before construction can begin on the land purchased for the farm on Airport Road near the south side of Ames.

Don Kom, director of the city of Ames electrical services, said the city has 62 percent of its needed pledges, which leaves roughly 4,000 power packs that need to be purchased before 80 percent is reached.

Kom said because there are a large number of power packs available in the project, the church’s pledge was “a fraction of a percentage,” but that “their contribution helps a lot.”

He said the city has had other organizations make pledges, but nothing yet to the extent of what the Unitarian Universalist Fellowship has done.

Since the church made its pledge, Kom has heard more churches talking about getting a fundraiser of their own started.

Larry Koehrsen, a member of the fellowship, was one of the main people in charge of the fundraising effort.

“We weren’t asking for a specific number of power pack purchases from anyone, just whatever you can do,” Koehrsen said.

When the initial meetings for the SunSmart project took place in the summer of 2017, Koehrsen and other members of the church attended them, but at that time, there was no plan to specifically purchase any for the church.

“I think personally we had bought into it, but as a fellowship, it wasn’t until the middle of last year that we took this on as a project,” said Koehrsen, who also writes periodic columns on environmental issues for the Tribune.

The church board authorized the project in October 2018, and it officially launched the project in December.

“By the end of January, we were well over our goal,” Koehrsen said.

Although it seems like the goal was easily reached, this wasn’t the case, Brundy said.

Before they officially launched the campaign, members of the church had been speaking to one another about this for a while.

Brundy said Molly Helmers, another member of the church, took charge of the marketing strategy for the campaign.

“I don’t have a lot of fundraising background, but this idea of the silent phase, Molly was really instrumental in this,” Brundy said. “Trying to build support so that when we did launch officially, it wouldn’t be a struggle that was dragging out, but that we had some strong support when we officially launched during the traditional giving season around the holidays. It couldn’t have been done better.”

Brundy said members of the fellowship are more than willing to answer questions other organizations may have about how they completed their fundraising.

“We’d like this to be something where we encourage other churches and organizations to take part in this. Sometimes we talk about it as climate justice and an inequity issue,” Brundy said. “It’s impacting quality of life issues, currently, for a lot of people, but also for the next generation. So social justice, climate justice — that is a part of this.”


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