A rousing performance from the Roots of Music marching band kicked off the opening ceremony Saturday (March 25) for the Community Lighthouse project at Bethlehem Lutheran Church on Washington Avenue.
An initiative of Together New Orleans, the Community Lighthouse project is envisioned as a citywide network of solar-powered hubs with backup battery capacity throughout the city, so that every New Orleanian is within walking distance of an energy and aid source during power outages.
The pilot phase of 24 community lighthouses is expected to be fully operational ahead of the 2023 hurricane season. The event Saturday celebrated the completion of the first two lighthouse:, one at Bethlehem Lutheran and another in Broadmoor Community Church.
Together New Orleans is a coalition of faith-based and community institutions all over New Orleans. These 86 institutions will become grid-independent community centers that can withstand major power outages and provide charging and cooling stations, lights, food and other vital resources and information when the power goes out, such as after Hurricane Ida in 2021
Together New Orleans has secured federal funding, private donations and funding from the city through the American Rescue Plan Act and the Wisner grant to fund the lighthouses, also known as “resilience hubs.” Together New Orleans’ goal is to have one such community hub within a 15-minute walk of every city resident.
Bethlehem Lutheran’s pastor, the Rev. Ben Groth, introduced the event’s speakers, which included District B Councilwoman Lesli Harris, U.S. Rep. Troy Carter, state Rep. Royce Duplessis, a representative from the Department of Homeland Security, and a spokesperson for Entergy.
Groth led a prayer of thanks, then introduced Carter, who has secured the $3.8 million in federal funding for the project — the largest appropriation of federal funds to any solar project. Carter mentioned the importance of “clean, green energy — because we only have one earth.”
Carter gave credit to community advocacy propelling the funding for the project. “I am blessed that we were able to fund it,” he said. “It’s about staying cool in the summer and staying warm in the winter. We know storms come, and are coming faster.”
Council member Harris took the microphone next. She was familiar with Bethlehem Lutheran through working with them during the aftermath of Hurricane Ida, when the congregation distributed 500 meals per day without access to grid-tied power. The church still serves meals to community members Tuesday, Wednesday, Thursday and Saturday at noon.
“This is a true place of community,” she said, and mentioned how neighbors gathered at Bethlehem after Ida not just for meals but to see one another and feel connection with their neighbors.
Royce Duplessis, the district representative for Louisiana Senate District 5 (which includes Central City) followed Harris. “I remember calling Congressman Carter for ice [after Ida],” said Duplessis. “So many from the community stepped up.”
After the speakers, the band led a second-line around the block.
Reporter Jesse Baum can be reached at email@example.com.