Human Stories of the Maryland RENEW Act: Alma Wiggins

This Black church struggles to keep the lights on. We can help. 


It was a Sunday morning, church day, when Alma Wiggins got the phone call: there was no electricity at the Mt. Calvary Baptist Church, where she’s on the board of trustees. 

The 100-plus year old building struggles with old and inefficient heating infrastructure. Every year, they’re hit with major utility bills, to the tune of $70,000, to keep the place warm and the lights on. But upgrading their building would be extremely costly—costs they can’t afford. 

In a world of supercharged weather events, where extensive heat waves and freak cold snaps are becoming more common, it’s getting even harder to maintain a sense of normalcy in places like Alma’s church. Statistics reveal the alarming rise in extreme heat events, particularly in Maryland, where temperatures are projected to soar significantly by the 2060s and 2080s. The grim reality is highlighted by the tragic toll of heat-related deaths, with 28 reported in Maryland in 2018, 13 of which were in Baltimore alone. Excessive heat is now recognized as the leading cause of weather-related deaths in the United States—and it will only get worse as the planet continues to warm. 

That’s why it’s become that much more important to make our homes and buildings efficient and safe, running on clean energy that won’t pollute its constituents. And that’s why Alma and the Board of Trustees are hoping to weatherize the building and switch to clean, renewable electricity. Improving efficiency in residential buildings can save lives during extreme heat and cold events. Churches like Alma’s can become a resiliency center, too. Equipped with solar panels and batteries, resiliency centers ensure communities can have access to electricity even when the grid goes down.

The proposed Maryland Responding to Emergency Needs from Extreme Weather (RENEW) Act would help make that happen, by providing funding to help buildings in vulnerable areas lower their bills and protect themselves from extreme weather. Homes that utilize advanced energy efficiency can maintain safer, more habitable conditions during extended blackouts or interruptions in fuel deliveries.

Furthermore, Alma is hoping her church can become a place for social change. Where did many social movements begin in the past century? At the church. If Mt. Calvary Baptist Church runs on solar panels and provides electric car charging, their constituents might be inspired to make the same changes. 

The slow-moving disaster of global warming is costly. That’s why Maryland legislators are considering the Responding to Emergency Needs from Extreme Weather (RENEW) Act. The RENEW Act would invest $900 million a year for ten years into climate adaptation and mitigation — including provide funds to make buildings more resilient to climate change and extreme heat.

Alma’s story is just one of many playing out across Maryland as extreme weather events take a growing toll. A recent Gonzales poll found that 48% of Marylanders have been personally harmed financially by climate change within the past three years. Surviving these increasingly common extreme weather events will require investing in the natural and physical infrastructure needed to withstand hotter hots, wetter wets, and higher tides. But it’s about more than weather. For many people, their way of life is at stake. 

That’s why we need your help to pass the RENEW Act as quickly as possible and make these resiliency investments before it’s too late. Click here to watch the video with Alma’s story, and learn how you can take action to pass the RENEW Act today.