Seven Catholic communities in the Catholic Diocese of Richmond, Virginia, have completed or nearly completed solar projects with Catholic Energies this summer, representing a substantial injection of solar power across the Diocese’s churches and schools. The combined projects will generate over 1.6 million kWh of clean electricity each year for decades and save the churches more than $2 million in energy operating costs during the term of their solar agreements.
The Diocesan projects are being developed in partnership with Catholic Energies, a service of the Washington, D.C.-based nonprofit Catholic Climate Covenant, which helps guide the U.S. church’s response to climate change. Catholic Energies was able to obtain the total capital costs of the seven projects from a single investor source.
“Nearly $3 million in total installation capital costs were secured by Catholic Energies on behalf of the Diocese and its parishes,” said Dan Last, Catholic Energies program manager. “This is one of our largest collections of projects to date.”
The energy required to power U.S. buildings is responsible for about a third of greenhouse gases in country, and these projects will help reduce those emissions.
“At St. Pius X, it was an easy decision for us to go solar. Not only do we save money, but we help answer the call from Pope Francis to care for creation,” said Father Nixon Negparanon of St. Pius X Church in Norfolk, one of the seven projects. “The children who will be sitting under the solar panels on our school roof are the ones that are going to be living with the choices that we make today. As a faith community, we witness our commitment to good stewardship of the earth when we take tangible steps to reduce our carbon footprint, both here on the St. Pius X campus, and in each of our households.”
The Richmond Diocese solar projects are:
- Church of St Therese, Chesapeake: 100 kW in size, plus LED lighting, which in total will offset about 82% of its annual historical energy requirement.
- Roanoke Catholic School, Roanoke: 61 kW in size, offsetting about 16% of its annual energy requirement.
- Our Lady of Lourdes Catholic School, Richmond: 108 kW in size, plus a reduction in energy consumption from LED lighting, in total offsets about 98% of its annual energy requirement.
- Diocese of Richmond Pastoral Center, Richmond: 245 kW in size generating 317,000 kW hours of clean electricity per year, plus a reduction in energy consumption from LED lighting, in total offsets about 84% of their annual historical energy requirement.
- Sacred Heart Church, Danville: 230 kW in size, plus LED lighting, which in total will offset about 89% of its annual energy requirement.
- St. Pius X Church, Norfolk: 316 kW in size, plus LED lighting, in total offsets about 71% of its annual energy requirement.
- Church of the Holy Family, Virginia Beach: 253 kW in size, plus LED lighting, in total offsets about 87% of its annual energy requirement.
“The Diocese of Richmond has been at the forefront of leading the Catholic Church into a more sustainable future, and this exciting bundle of projects is a testament to a growing U.S. Catholic commitment on renewable energy and the environment,” said Dan Misleh, executive director of Catholic Climate Covenant. “In a warming world, it is critical that we hear ‘both the cry of the earth and the cry of the poor,’ as Pope Francis has urged. These parishes are showing us the way.”
For Catholic churches and organizations that wish to install solar power and other energy-efficiency equipment, Catholic Energies serves as a one-stop project developer. By converting often older buildings in a parish, school or other entity through energy efficiency and renewable energy, Catholic institutions live up to the challenge of the seminal Laudato Si’ encyclical on Care for our Common Home, in practice and in teaching, and save money along the way.
“Reducing our carbon footprint is a passion for all of us in keeping with the tenets of our Catholic faith to be good stewards of our environment,” said Patrick Patterson, Roanoke Catholic School principal and head of school. “This investment demonstrates our commitment to educating our students and school community on the importance of environmental stewardship beginning at the pre-K through 12th grade level and carrying us throughout our lives.”
Parishes always have the option to pay upfront or finance their solar projects. However, a third-party financing model for nonprofits continues to grow in popularity in Virginia, especially after the recent passage of the Virginia Clean Economy Act, which seeks for the state to move toward 100% renewable energy.
Through a power purchase agreement (PPA), the churches pay no upfront costs for solar projects. Instead, Catholic Energies secures third-party investors who will pay for the entire solar project. In return, the investor receives tax credits, plus regular payments from the church for the solar-generated power.
The price the Catholic institution pays for solar power is generally a discounted rate compared to its current utility power rate, which allows them to save on operating costs each month, year over year. The institution has options throughout the PPA to purchase the solar panel system outright. Parishes can also complete LED lighting retrofits to save energy and costs through the PPA. Most of the Diocese of Richmond projects were completed through a PPA and are also completing LED retrofits.
“It’s probably the best time ever in the history of the state of Virginia to make an investment in solar,” said Page Gravely, head of client services at Catholic Energies.
News item from Catholic Energies