Together We Did It! – A 75% Emissions Reduction

It is so satisfying to act collectively! Over two hundred supporters—204, to be exact—helped achieve and surpass our $119,000 fundraising goal for a 50kW solar array of 132 panels. It will reduce Crestone Mountain Zen Center’s carbon emissions from propane and electrical by 75%. Construction will begin in March 2020. Thank you, donors!


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Please read on for Zenki Roshi’s thoughts on the relationship between individual efforts and systemic change, as well as updates about CMZC’s implementation of the campus conversion plan.

Both Individual and Systemic Change

In our time of climate crisis, as an individual person, one can feel powerless and frustrated when it comes to answering the question of how to effectively counteract global warming.

Seemingly everywhere, one can now hear the argument that small individual and local lifestyle changes won’t protect the world from irreversible climate disaster. Instead, it is said, we need systemic change. While this perspective makes statistical sense and prevents us from thinking our individual action will “save the world,” it can leave us with a sense of powerlessness in two ways. Since what I do doesn’t count in the big picture, it’s easy to think what I do doesn’t seem to matter at all, and thus I may as well not bother changing my way of life. Or, even if I do decide to make efforts to reduce my personal carbon footprint, it will never make a significant enough difference and will therefore be meaningless. In this view, it is only voting, mass protest, and effective lobbying for large-scale climate solutions that can have a truly significant impact.

Yet these different approaches—individual action and systemic change efforts—don’t need to be mutually exclusive. They can be seen as deeply interdependent and complementary. To our political and systemic action, we can add the satisfaction of reducing our own footprint and thus, as Suzuki Roshi put it, “shine one corner of the world.” Taking care of what is immediately in front of us satisfies our hearts. It doesn’t by itself save the biosphere on a planetary scale, but it changes everything in our sphere of influence. And it can influence everyone who enters this sphere. When change on the micro-level is satisfying and beautiful, it can be contagious.

CMZC is planning to share the roadmap of our transformational process with other spiritual and nonprofit organizations in the region. One big contribution we can make is to share the knowledge of the innovative third-party tax investor model we developed. It brought the cost of our solar construction down to 45% of the market price.

On Track… and Refusing to Be Derailed

It’s been an impressive journey for CMZC. In 2016 – a campus-wide energy audit. In 2017/18 – multiple energy efficiency measures that reduced emissions by 27% per user-night. In 2019 – a comprehensive fuel conversion plan. And in 2020, we’ll see the 75% emissions reduction with a 50kW solar array we just made possible together.

In April 2019, our plan almost got derailed. The local utility, the San Luis Valley Rural Electric Coop, abruptly changed its rate structure. The rate changes in effect doubled the price of solar panels for net-metered systems like ours, if financed with a loan. We had hoped to convert the entire campus to electrical and solar power in one single effort, but the rate change made it unaffordable to partly finance the project with a bank loan. The savings under the new rate would have been too little to service the loan.

So we had to bring down the scope and adopt a strategy of incremental transformation—without giving up our ambitious zero carbon goal. As of November 2019, due to a successful legal challenge brought by citizens (which we supported financially), the utility had to walk back most of the rate change. But that’s an intermediary settlement, good only until April 2021. In other words, uncertainty remains.

What does this mean for CMZC? It means we will become more engaged at the local and state level to advocate for policies that truly support and advance renewable energy and decarbonization efforts.

It also means that, realistically, our multi-year Zero Carbon Campus campaign will need to be primarily funded through donations, interest-free loans, and savings we can secure through increases in efficiency and on-site energy production.

Based on the Sangha’s enthusiasm and support so far, we are confident it can be done.