Solar, Sourcing Renewables  -  November 22, 2019 - By Dan Misleh, Catholic Climate Covenant

Catholic Charities Benefits from Largest Ground-based Solar Array in DC

In his encyclical letter, Laudato Si’: On Care for Our Common Home, Pope Francis said, “We know technology based on the use of highly polluting fossil fuels…needs to be progressively replaced without delay.”

As a direct response to this plea, Catholic Climate Covenant (founded in 2006) developed our Catholic Energies (CE) program. The venture began as a business startup and the Covenant found and early and willing partner in Mission Energies (formerly PDG) to help find ways to tap a huge portfolio—over 70,000 Catholic-owned buildings in the United States—and focus on both energy efficiency and solar energy. Successful projects are also seen as a way to help educate some of the 75 million U.S. Catholics on what it means to care for our common home and to inspire individual and collective action. The value-added that Catholic Energies brings to the marketplace includes a one-stop-shop for energy project development; access to Catholic decision-makers at all levels; and a trusted entity where CE looks out for the interest of the Catholic community.

The program was piloted and refined over four years and in the spring of 2018, we began conversations with Catholic Charities of the Archdiocese of Washington to take advantage of the tremendous solar incentives in the District of Columbia.

The target was a 15-acre lot that surrounds a large facility—itself home to Mother Teresa’s Missionaries of Charity who provide comfort and care to terminally or seriously ill older, indigent citizens. Fr. John Ensler, president and CEO of Catholic Charities, had the wisdom to see that a large ground-based solar array would offset electric costs across the portfolio of all 12 Catholic Charities buildings in the district.

Retaining Catholic Energies as project developer, our team quickly secured funding (IGS Solar out of Columbus, OH, who will own the system and take advantage of the Federal Tax Credit as well as the lucrative SREC market in DC) and a general contractor (Solar Energy Services, based in Maryland).  We determined that 5 of the 15 acres are suitable for solar, and construction began in July 2019 to install 5,072 panels on the site, a 2-megawatt system. Fresh Energy, a company that plants pollinator gardens around solar arrays, joined the team and showed how such gardens offer a number of benefits: holding the topsoil, cooling the panels, and providing plants for bees and butterflies. The project will now be an urban pollinator meadow study site for the National Renewable Energy Laboratory.

Once operational in early 2020, the solar project will:

  • Provide 2.7 million kilowatt-hours per year (equivalent to powering approximately 350 homes)
  • Offset nearly 100% of the conventional electricity required for much of Catholic Charities real estate portfolio in DC
  • Effectively eliminate 3,400 tons of CO2 emissions from the atmosphere
  • Be 2.5% of all the renewable energy produced in the District of Columbia to date
  • Save several hundred thousand dollars annually in electric costs for Catholic Charities, money that will be put back into core mission activities: sheltering the homeless, feeding the hungry, welcoming the immigrant, and counseling the lost.
  • IGS’s lease payments will provide needed revenue for deferred maintenance on the building leased by Mother Teresa

With this and a parish project (Catholic Energies' first solar project in Hampton, VA) demand for Catholic Energies’ services has skyrocketed. The program is now working across the country to replicate this effort. Imagine the scope and scale: if every Catholic-owned building had a 200kW system (average) on its roof, the Catholic Church could produce over 16 gigawatts of electricity annually. And like Catholic Charities here, those savings can be used to support the many ministries of the Church, become a witness to local communities, reduce harmful greenhouse gas emissions, and be a direct response to being better stewards of creation, our common home.

 

Dan Misleh is the founding executive director of Catholic Climate Covenant, which enjoys the support of 19 national Catholic organizational partners, including the U.S. Conference of Catholic Bishops, and works to help this faith community rise to the challenges of environmental injustice and climate change being especially mindful of the impacts on the most vulnerable people at home and abroad.

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