Energy Initiatives for Parishes and Schools
The Vatican has called for our Catholic institutions to embark on a 7 year journey to total sustainability in the spirit of Laudato Si’. Parishioners can be a motivating force for initiating important energy saving and renewable energy initiatives in our schools and parishes.
Below is information on opportunities you could consider participating in and acting on to make a significant difference in advancing Creation Care. The details provided and processes outlined can help ensure the success of your project.
Energy efficiency is the fastest, cheapest and largest single resource solution for simultaneously saving energy, saving money and preventing Greenhouse Gas (GHG) emissions. Benchmarking refers to measuring a building's energy use over time, and in comparison to other properties of similar size and location, and then using that information to assess performance, identify improvements and quantify potential and real savings. Parishioners who are advocates of Creation Care can have an important role to play in this process. As volunteers, you should engage with your pastor, the parish business manager and let them know that you (and fellow team members) are committed and available to help identify and support a given initiative/investigation opportunity. The Archdiocese of Chicago is available to offer guidance – and that step is highly recommended since they deal with these matters all the time.
- Step 1: Map the Campus Utilities. Every parish is different when it comes to the layout of their energy and water meter supply. Some locations have central heating plants that provide for multiple buildings, while others have a separate meter for each facility. Working with the parish business and facility staff to locate meters, document on-site supply framework and consolidate invoice information will allow for a more accurate analysis of the site’s energy usage.
- Step 2: Assess Performance. Before starting any project, you need to assess your current energy performance to see how you compare. This is called “benchmarking”. Benchmark your worship facility’s baseline energy use, costs and GHG emissions. Your benchmark provides a baseline from which you can plan, manage, and track improvement projects toward success. You cannot manage what you do not measure.
- Step 3: Set Goals. Congregations decide to focus on energy efficiency for a variety of reasons, including lowering utility bills, reducing energy consumption and reducing pollution that is harmful to human health and the environment. Set and achieve realistic savings goals for your congregation.
- Step 4: Create an Action Plan. Identify actions that the congregation can do relatively easily and with little or no expense. Typically, there are savings opportunities available.
- Step 5: Implement the Action Plan. Implement the energy efficiency plan you developed and communicate the expected benefits and outcomes to the other members of your congregation. Don’t overlook the skilled and professional time and talent in your own congregation. Additionally, consider the valuable contribution your youth group can make in implementing the plan.
- Step 6: Evaluate Progress. After the planned work has been completed, ensure that your congregation will sustain improvements in property operation and maintenance practices, maintaining any new equipment and systems at peak performance and tracking your energy and dollar savings.
One of the more common Creation Care suggestions is adding solar panels to the roof or on site at a school or parish. Where it makes sense, solar installations are an ideal way to promote renewable energy. It will be important to build a solid business case for this type of renewable energy effort. The Archdiocese of Chicago has negotiated a multi-year power supply contract with all parishes and schools in the archdiocese and negotiates all legal contracts and power agreements for the archdiocese. While this could be a barrier, this does not preclude the possibility of an independent location switching to renewable energy, but it can make the business case a little more challenging.
There are several factors to be taken into consideration in determining if solar is a good fit for your parish or school and whether it is likely to break even financially or generate a cost savings. A good starting point is to begin with a discussion with your parish pastor and Business Manager. If the outcome is positive from that discussion, we recommend contacting the Archdiocese Energy and Sustainability Associate, David Singler. Success in meeting minimum business case requirements is more likely if David can identify interested parishes in advance and negotiate a cluster of parish solar development initiatives with a single developer. David can assist you helping to build the business case, negotiating the contract, and helping add to your credibility in recommending the project as being financially advantageous (or at least breakeven) for your parish or school. Email David Singler at [email protected].
In recent years, state legislation has paved the way for Community Solar opportunities. Community Solar may be a good option for parishes who are not ideal candidates for installed solar on their buildings, or who prefer not to install solar panels on their buildings. Community Solar is an arrangement under which many customers “subscribe” to a single third party solar provider who is providing power from a large Photo Voltaic project. By “subscribing” we mean that an entity like a parish would agree to buy a fixed portion of the power generated from the Photo Voltaic array as required to meet their annual electrical needs. In return, the parish would receive a credit on their monthly electric bills for the kwh produced that month by their subscription (called virtual net metering). The subscriber would pay their utility (ComEd) for the difference between the amount of electricity they used and their credit (the net) at the default rate. The subscriber pays the solar provider, at a discounted rate, for all of the energy that their portion of the array produced. If the subscriber portion of the array produced more energy (in a given month) than they used, the utility (ComEd) carries over the excess credit to the following months. Of the three typical components of an electrical bill (Supply, Delivery, Fees & Taxes), these Community Solar arrangements can result in up to a 20% discount on the supply rate.
The discount on the rate paid to the solar provider may vary according to subscriber’s rate classification (single residential, commercial variable, etc.). In most cases, subscribers will save money (on the “supply” portion) of their bills. However, Community Solar is not just about saving money. It is primarily about displacing the use of fossil fuels for production of electricity. For this purpose, Community Solar is mandated and financially assisted by State legislation. But the impact of Community Solar projects can be fully realized only if they are fully subscribed.
Under this arrangement, the utility continues to service the lines of the subscriber. The third-party solar project might be located near the customer or many miles away, but it must be in the same utility service territory as the customer. The solar power from the third-party array is fed into the utility service grid and therefore is not directly used by the subscribers. But by supporting Community Solar, a customer/subscriber is promoting renewable energy in our state and expanding the state’s renewable energy portfolio.
Parishes that want to consider Community Solar are advised to use the following process:
- Begin with a discussion with your parish pastor and Business Manager.
- If the outcome is positive from that discussion, we recommend contacting the Archdiocese Energy and Sustainability Associate, David Singler. Success in meeting minimum business case requirements is more likely if David can identify interested parishes in advance and negotiate a cluster of parish community solar development initiatives with a single third-party provider.
- David could assist you helping to build the business case, negotiating the contract and helping add to your credibility in recommending the project as being financially advantageous (or at least break even) for your parish or school.
- Present the proposal to the Pastor and Business Manager for approval.
- Work with David and the Business Manager to execute the contract. Email David Singler at [email protected].