John Smillie had always been concerned about climate change, but in 2019, he became increasingly anxious. As he read news about intensifying wildfires, floods, and other disasters, his growing unease started affecting his personal life. His wife urged him to take action.

As a result, Smillie made his family home more environmentally friendly by replacing single-pane windows with double-pane ones. He also sealed ducts, added insulation to the attic, and installed a heat pump water heater. According to Canary Media, these measures lowered his home’s CO2 emissions by 46%.

Initially, Smillie had considered installing solar panels on his own roof but realized that his home’s dormer windows would obstruct them. However, he noticed that the Montgomery County Youth Service Bureau, located nearby, had a suitable flat roof for solar panels.

Smillie approached the nonprofit’s executive director, Karen Branch. He proposed donating $30,000, the amount he would have spent on a solar array for his own house, to solarize their building. Branch enthusiastically accepted the offer, and in August 2022, the youth bureau’s 9.9-kilowatt solar array became operational.

The solar panels have significantly reduced the organization’s utility bills, saving an average of $150 per month. In July, the power bill for the 11,000-square-foot building was only $120, even lower than Branch’s bill for her 2,500-square-foot home.

The money saved goes back into the organization’s programs, which offer mentoring, court advocates, supplementary food, and other support services. Last year, the nonprofit assisted 3,200 young individuals.

Reducing emissions at the local level

Assisting the Montgomery County Youth Service Bureau made Smillie realize that he could use his passion for clean energy to not only reduce his personal carbon footprint but also that of the wider community. He desired to replicate this positive impact but was uncertain about the steps to take.

Then, in August 2022, the Inflation Reduction Act was passed by Congress. This law facilitates access to clean energy tax credits for nonprofits, schools, and other tax-exempt entities.

Even without owing taxes, these organizations can now receive a direct payment from the federal government. This payment is equivalent to 30 percent of the solar project’s cost.

As the site of a decommissioned coal plant, Montgomery County (where Smillie resides) qualifies for an additional 10 percent tax credit. This is because the government classifies Montgomery County as an energy community.

Furthermore, if an organization also meets the requirements for US-made equipment, it becomes eligible for an extra 10 percent discount.

Recognizing the immense opportunity presented, Smillie embarked on extensive research regarding the new climate law. He particularly sought assistance from the Citizens’ Climate Lobby, which provided comprehensive training on the intricacies of the legislation.

Armed with this knowledge and his financial background, he began searching for other nonprofit organizations he could aid in transitioning to solar power.

The Boys & Girls Club joins in on the action 

In the fall of 2022, Smillie proposed the installation of solar panels to the Boys & Girls Club of Montgomery County. During a lunch meeting with the club’s leadership, Smillie presented a financial analysis, drawing from his expertise in discounted cash flow models.

He demonstrated the cost of solar installation for the club, incorporating the IRA direct-pay incentives. This cost was estimated to be $34,000. He then outlined how solar installation would save the club approximately $2,000 per year through the local utility’s net metering program.

In total, Smillie projected that the solar array would have an annual rate of return of 11 percent, surpassing the stock market’s performance. As a gesture of support, Smillie and his partners also offered a donation of $9,000 to contribute toward the project’s financing.

Troy Mitchell, president of the Montgomery County Boys & Girls Club’s board of directors, expressed great enthusiasm and promptly embraced the proposal.

Last month, the 10-kilowatt solar array was successfully installed. Additionally, the solar panels help support the club’s mission. Erica Cummins, the club’s interim director, emphasized that reduced utility costs allow more funds to be allocated directly toward supporting children.

Where John goes from here

Smillie is currently involved in numerous additional projects. These include adding solar panels to a local school,  advocating for the electrification of police vehicles, and challenging local regulations that hinder large-scale solar and wind projects.

He’s encouraging others to get involved in their communities to promote decarbonization through various means. People can take action by making donations, helping nonprofits adopt solar energy, or spreading awareness about clean energy opportunities.

For his inspiring work in helping nonprofits to reduce emissions and save money, we have named John Smillie our clean energy sustainability champion of the week. Well done John!

Image Source: St. John’s Episcopal Church, Crawfordsville, Indiana,