Representative Lori Trahan presents SUNNY Award to Congregation Beth Elohim

May 16, 2024
A man wearing a suit and a yarmulke talks with a very tall woman wearing a jacket and flowered dress. They are on the patio of a building (Congregation Beth Elohim) and there is a trellis in the background.
U.S. Rep. Lori Trahan speaks with Rabbi Braham David of Congregation Beth Elohim. May 5, 2024. Photo: K.R. Watkins

U.S. Representative Lori Trahan visited Acton’s Congregation Beth Elohim (CBE) on Sunday, May 5th, to present the U.S. Department of Energy SUNNY Award for CBE’s solar carport arrays project. The $12,500 SUNNY Award, one of only five in the nation, celebrates community solar projects deploying “best practices that increase equitable access to clean energy,” according to CBE’s investing partner, Sunwealth Power. Rep. Trahan stated, “The way you leveraged this amount of money to help the community, to work toward a cleaner energy future, is just great.” Of Congregation Beth Elohim’s four solar arrays, three are designated as “community solar”. Half of the electricity generated by these three community solar arrays are dedicated to three community organizations that serve income-eligible households. The fourth array powers the building. Referring to this type of project, Rep. Trahan declared, “We want them to be contagious!”

With two of the three community solar carports in the background, U.S. Representative Lori Trahan presents the Dept. of Energy SUNNY Award for Equitable Community Solar to members of Congregation Beth Elohim and their supporters
Rep. Lori Trahan presents the SUNNY Award to Congregation Beth Elohim. May 5, 2024. Photo: K.R. Watkins

Rep. Trahan also highlighted the Biden administration’s passage of the Inflation Reduction Act, which now allows non-profits and faith organizations to access the 30% solar rebates that homeowners can declare as tax credits. She closed her remarks by holding up Massachusetts and the Healey Administration as a national leader in clean energy technology development and climate legislation.

Over 25 people were on hand to honor CBE’s achievement, including Barry Nyer and Matt Liebman, who, along with Bob Becker and Matt Kontoff, spearheaded Congregation Beth Elohim’s quest to install solar. Also present were Bob Clarke of 621 Energy (Concord, MA), who managed the project design and installation, and John Abe of Sunwealth Power, a Massachusetts-grown national solar investment firm committed to developing solar projects that serve diverse and vulnerable communities. Joining the event were Massachusetts State Rep. Dan Sena, Acton Select Board member David Martin, volunteers from Energize Acton and many members of Congregation Beth Elohim, including Rabbi Braham David and co-president Lindsay Rosenman, both of whom warmly welcomed Representative Trahan to the congregation.

Clean Energy Advocates under the solar carports at Congregation Beth Elohim
Clean Energy Advocates: David Martin, Acton Select Board; Massachusetts Rep. Dan Sena; Rabbi Braham David, Congregation Beth Elohim; U.S. Rep. Lori Trahan; Matt Liebman and Barry Nyer, Congregation Beth Elohim Photo: K.R. Watkins

Deena Ferrara, CBE member, commented on the solar team’s efforts. “Barry and Matt were so determined! When we found out that the synagogue’s roof could not support rooftop solar panels, most of us were ready to give up. However, Barry and Matt persevered.” In brief comments, Barry Nyer described the evolution of the project from the wish for a small rooftop solar array to the much bigger project of four solar arrays that now cover the congregation’s electricity and power 16 low-income homes. “We were thrilled and honored that Rep. Lori Trahan made time to visit and present the award,” commented Matt Liebman.

Congregation Beth Elohim Solar Partners Sunwealth Power CEO Jon Abe and 621 Energy Owner Bob Clarke with solar carports in the background
Congregation Beth Elohim Solar Partners: Sunwealth Power CEO Jon Abe and 621 Energy Owner Bob Clark. Photo: K.R. Watkins

After the presentation, John Abe (Sunwealth Power) noted the role of houses of worship in the effort to provide community solar. “When we look at the Sunwealth portfolio of projects, about 22% of the kilowatt hours that we generate comes from houses of worship.” He added that people of faith are “natural leaders” in the solar movement, because they care about their neighbors and the Earth. Community solar is a program that allows renters, and households where solar is not possible, to subscribe to solar generated in other places. Sunwealth Power focuses on solar generation in the “built environment,” that is, utilizing rooftops and parking lots, and directing their power generation to underserved communities.

Congregation Beth Elohim’s developer, 621 Energy, originally connected the synagogue with Sunwealth, as the congregation looked at different options for installing and financing solar. According to Matt Liebman, the partnership allowed the congregation to move forward with no upfront investment and good outcomes. “CBE has seen $13,000 in savings over 43 months of operation, and an additional $8,000 per year in leasing revenue.” 621 Energy works primarily with businesses and non-profit organizations. They have completed fifteen projects with houses of worship in eastern Massachusetts as well as with local Acton landmarks such as Household Goods, Cucurbit Farm, and the New View cohousing community on Half Moon Hill.

Karen Root Watkins is on the admin team for, a community website and clean energy/climate education group sponsored by the Acton Climate Coalition and the Town of Acton Sustainability Office.


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