Michelle Benham: Faith in Solar

Michelle Benham: Faith in Solar

About the Project

Michelle Benham's Faith in Solar video campaign aimed to mobilize faith-based communities in North Carolina to urge state Attorney General Roy Cooper to use his authority to enforce Duke Energy’s corporate charter. The goal of Faith in Solar was to set a precedent for large, politically influential utility companies around the country for providing clean, renewable alternatives to energy production.

North Carolina is one of only four states that bans third party groups from selling electricity. This means that all energy harnessed from renewables must pass through the grid and be subjected to a fee from the utility company, in this case Duke Energy. Because solar panels are often prohibitively expensive for individuals and small organizations, it becomes necessary to involve a third party to help cover the up-front costs of the panels. The third party, featured in Faith in Solar, is NC WARN. NC WARN installs solar panels and then sells the energy back to the organization or individual, but at a much lower rate per kilowatt hour than Duke Energy, recouping investment for the panels over time. NC WARN's program allows individuals to enter the renewable energy market and make conscious decisions about where and how their energy is produced, harnessed and distributed.

CMG met Michelle through an Action Grant pitch session at the Jackson Hole Wildlife Film Festival. Her project was one of eight chosen to pitch and was selected as one of three winners. CMG awarded Faith in Solar an $8,000 grant which will cover necessary production and distribution costs. The final campaign will consist of a 3-minute video, engaging members of the faith-based community to mobilize against Duke Energy's stranglehold on the renewable energy market.

The Faith in Solar video featured interviews with leaders in faith-based communities, including Rev. Nelson Johnson of the Greensboro Faith Community Church, advocates for renewable energy, and state politicians. After briefly outlining the issue and the stand being urged at a local level, it also featured a clear call to action: to contact Attorney General Roy Cooper and urge him to open an investigation into whether Duke Energy is guilty of violating their public charter.

After an initial posting on NC WARN's site, where it will be hosted, the video was also be shown on the road at presentations where NC WARN traveled to meet with faith-based communities across the state. The campaign set a goal of 500 page views and 250 letters to A.G. Cooper’s office through NCWARN's site by the end of February 2016, at which time Michelle began measuring the video's impact.

Distribution of the video began in early 2016.

About the Grantee

With a background in science, conservation and film, Michelle's goal is to create meaningful and accurate content that is entertaining, inspiring and informative. Michelle has written, directed and produced award-winning videos for nonprofit, corporate and government clients for broadcast, web and education. As a producer for Discovery Learning Alliance, she brought exciting educational video content to classrooms in underserved communities around the world with innovative programs about wildlife, science, culture, conservation and economics. As an Earth Science Producer, Michelle produced multimedia for a variety of projects for NASA's Goddard Space Flight Center including Operation IceBridge, the largest airborne mission to measure sea and land ice at the Earth’s poles.

Michelle was also a member of the 2009–2010 class of the Emerging Wildlife Conservation Leaders and is on the Board of Directors for the new Conservation Leaders in the Caribbean initiative that brings together the best and brightest emerging leaders working in conservation in the Greater Caribbean for leadership training, networking and professional development.  Michelle holds a Bachelor of Science in Ecology from the University of Georgia and a Master of Fine Arts in Film and Electronic Media from the Center for Environmental Filmmaking at American University in Washington, DC. She currently lives in Durham, North Carolina with her husband and two children.

Project Updates and Milestones

Distribution: January 6, 2016 - April 7, 2016

Faith in Solar went live on ncwarn.org's Emergency Climate Response (ECR) page, Facebook and YouTube on Janaury 6, 2016.  Metrics were analyzed January 6 - April 7, 2016.  Impact was measured by hits to the ECR page and actions while on that page (i.e. letters sent to Attorney General Roy Cooper) by through-clicking the "Take Action" button.  Over the course of the measurement period the ECR page drew 3,672 page hits and resulted in 113 letters sent to Attorney General Cooper.  NC Warn also sent an E-newsletter blast within this period to their listserv.  The "open rate" for the E-blast was 24.8% with 155 thru-clicks to the ECR page.  The video has 570 videos on YouTube and was posted 5 different times by NC WARN on Facebook - receiving likes, shares and reaching 2,428 people. 

There were two public viewings with 45 total people: 25 people attended a presentation at Elon University during a Renewable Energy Future course on January 20th and 20 people attended a Sierra Club Meeting on February 11th.  There are 13 presentations for more that 700 people expected through September.  There is ongoing encouragement for people to contact AG Cooper.

View Michelle's video below!

Michelle Benham / Faith in Solar