A quick scan of the parishes and groups partnering with Catholic Energies reveals a noticeable geographic pattern: Virginia is a growing hotbed of solar activity.
Last month, three parishes in the Arlington Diocese powered up new solar installations, each developed and financed through Catholic Energies, the burgeoning program of the Catholic Climate Covenant that helps church institutions find outside funding to take on energy initiatives without the initial burden of hefty upfront costs.
With the new installations, the parishes — St. Anthony of Padua Catholic Church in Falls Church, St. Bernadette Catholic Church in Springfield and Nativity Catholic Church in Burke — will collectively offset the carbon dioxide emissions produced by powering 3,500 homes for a year or burning 15,000 tons of coal. Just as attractive to their finance councils, the solar projects came at no cost and forecast sizeable savings.
At St. Anthony of Padua, the 421-kilowatt rooftop solar system — the largest of the three parishes — is expected to cover almost 90% of the parish’s energy demand. The solar panels, along with LED lighting upgrades, are projected to save St. Anthony upwards of $1.3 million over the 25-year term of the power purchase agreement.
The rooftop panels at Nativity are part of several green initiatives under way at the parish. Its creation care ministry has also begun a community vegetable garden, and its school is developing an outdoor learning space with native plants and species. In bulletins this summer, the ministry team and pastor Fr. Robert Cilinski included reflections on “Laudato Si’, on Care for Our Common Home” to mark the fifth anniversary of Pope Francis’ encyclical. While the panels will save the parish money — more than $200,000 — they also reflect Christian values to safeguard creation.
“Our solar panels are on the rooftop shouting the wisdom of Laudato Si’, the social teaching of the church,” Cilinski recently told the Arlington Catholic Herald, the diocesan newspaper.
With each Richmond parish, none paid any upfront costs, an arrangement made possible by Catholic Energies.
The program first works with groups to determine if solar is a fit, then seeks funding, primarily through power purchase agreements. In those deals, an outside investor finances the project and sets a fixed rate for energy usage, often lower than local utility rates, which is paid directly to the investor.
Since launching in fall 2017, Catholic Energies has completed 11 solar projects in the past 13 months. Eleven more are under contract and expected to be completed by the end of 2020. By then, the program will have footprints in eight states, along with Puerto Rico and Washington, D.C.
But the biggest business for Catholic Energies so far has been the region around Virginia. Of the 22 solar installations in all it expects to have completed by the end of the year, 10 are in the Old Dominion and two are in the Washington, D.C., area, where it is also working to finalize contracts with three more Catholic clients.
The completed projects include the 2-megawatt solar installation for Catholic Charities of the Archdiocese of Washington, the largest solar project in the city and to date the largest completed by Catholic Energies, which is based in the District of Columbia. The array’s 5,000 panels began producing power in April. Since then, the electricity it has generated from the sun has offset roughly 1 million pounds of carbon emissions, or the equivalent of planting 25,000 trees, according to Catholic Energies.