News – January 27, 2023

"Look at What You Did"
by Ron Cookston, president of the Board

Dear Members and Friends,

When I was a child and made a mess in the house before going out to play, I would inevitably hear my mother calling out “Ronald Roy come here right now!”. Of course, I would respond because I knew what would happen if I dawdled. She would march me to the sight of the infraction and say, “Look at what you did.” I remember many such instances and the shame, but I do not remember any lessons I learned. When I was a little older my sister was going over my vocabulary words with me, and came to the word February. I spelled it correctly. She gave me an intense stare and said “Look at what you did.” in the same voice my mother used. She went on to say if you can learn to spell February you can learn anything. More importantly, that was the moment I began to believe I could learn anything. She used the same phrase again after I graduated with my doctorate.

On Friday, January 20, 2023, subsequent to authorization by the Board, First UU Houston closed on a 20 year loan in the amount of $488,000 to allow us to replace all of our air conditioning units which are all over 18 years old and very energy inefficient, replace every florescent or incandescent light bulb with efficient LED bulbs, seal all the doors, replace the big plastic window at the east end of the Sanctuary with double pained glass, and install a solar system to produce our own electricity by the end of June, 2024. It is expected we will pay off the loan using cash we would have used to pay for electricity over the next 25 years, which is the life expectancy of the solar panels and spend at least $350,000 less.

Now I get to say to you, the members of First UU Houston, “Look at what you did.” This all got started back in December 2021 when many of you expressed the importance of finding ways to reduce the carbon footprint of the church. The Board listened and created a Task Force to investigate alternatives. I do not know who made those recommendations but to you I can say, “Look at what you did.” The Task Force consisted of Nancy Edwards, Don Poole, Becky Smith, and a couple of folk from the Thoreau campus because it was thought that we could impact both campuses. The Task Force engaged Dori Wolfe, a leading consultant on such matters in Houston and now President of Emerson UU, to do the initial feasibility study which found that through the use of a Loan Program called PACE (Property Assessed Clean Energy) we could virtually free ourselves of the use of electricity produced by carbon-based fuel. They then engaged with Keith Reihl, an Environmental Engineer well recognized as a leader in the field, to prepare an engineering study required to qualify for PACE to determine the feasibility of such a project. When found to be feasible, the Task Force recommended to the Board that it should proceed to investigate the alternative. To the members of the Task Force, I can now say, “Look at what you did.”

Recognizing that one of the things the membership of First UU Houston has been proud of is that we have operated without debt for over 20 years, the Board asked the Finance Committee to review the feasibility study and make a recommendation to the Board. After careful review the Finance Committee advised the Board that given the purpose of the project and its importance related to our values and after consideration of the financials related to the project that it was supportive. I can now say to the members of the finance committee, “Look at what you did.”

Over the last few months, members were asked to weigh in. You attended zoom meetings and asked questions in between services. Although I cannot name all of you, the questions you asked improved the planning. To you I can now say, “Look at what you did.”

After considering input from the membership and reviewing all of the feasibility studies, the Board authorized negotiations with Nuveen Green Capital to procure a loan and finalize contracts. After long negotiations we were able to reach an agreement with them for a loan with a fixed interest rate of 7% for 20 years, which is a very competitive rate for a corporate construction loan. Contracts were finalized with Harvest Solar to install solar panels, Polar Air for the replacement of the air conditioning units, and Reasonable Renovations to replace lighting, seal doors, and replace the big windows at the East end of the Santuary. These negotiations could not have been successful without the help of Don Poole, Connie Acosta, Tawanna Grice, and Steve Braun who served as our attorney of record. To the Board and all of you that helped with the negotiations, I can now say, “Look at what you did.”

The construction activities will begin in February and are expected to be completed by June just in time to help with the high expected use of electricity over the summer. Although it is not expected that the work will inhibit any activities of the Church, members will notice some of it and eventually solar panels will be visible on the roof. I hope that when you see this you will say to yourself, “Look at what we are doing.” By the Fall when the Board can report to you the number of tons of carbon we are no longer putting into the atmosphere and the number of trees we are saving you will be able to say to yourselves, “Look at what we have done".