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Bridges, March 8, 2020

HARNESSING THE SUN: Exploring solar panels as alternative energy source

“There is an urgent need to develop policies so that, in the next few years, the emission of carbon dioxide and other highly polluting gases can be drastically reduced, for example, substituting for fossil fuels and developing sources of renewable energy”
- Pope Francis, On Care for our Common Home

That statement, along with our province commitment to “care for the Planet,” has had resonance among our sisters. In our reading and our discussions together, we have asked: How can we reduce our dependence on polluting fossil fuels for energy, lower our electricity costs, and address the climate crisis in a communal, meaningful way? One alternative gaining national and Catholic interest is the use of solar power. Sister Mary Bourdon and members of the leadership team have been exploring the possible use of solar panels on our Highland Mills property, and the community at St. Timothy’s had expressed interest in solar panels on the roof of the convent. We are all in admiration of our Haiti communities, where solar power generates many of their activities. Their leadership urges us on! These developments have led to an ongoing conversation with a representative of Catholic Energies, an outgrowth of the Catholic Climate Covenant begun in 2006.

Catholic Energies is a national, non-profit company that offers free counseling to Catholic institutions on possible uses of renewable energy sources. Their role: to educate, engage, and inform. They evaluate the needs and preferences of a group, and suggest the simplest and most effective way to proceed. They help find investors and grants for a project, using state and local agencies. Working with the community, Catholic Energies provides them with the best options for payment. Once the panels are installed, the community pays a bare minimum for upkeep, and for power not produced by solar energy. For further information on Catholic Energies, go to: www.catholicenergies.org.

Discussions are ongoing on solar panels for Highland Mills. Last October, at Sr. Mary’s suggestion, the community at St. Timothy’s contacted Mr. Page Gravely, vice-president for services at Catholic Energies, who requested a year’s worth of energy bills, and ran a feasibility study on its best approach. Because the convent roof is relatively new and flat, he sent a projected “helioscope” of it with computer-generated solar panels installed (on right). His suggestion for St. Timothy’s: that we obtain state energy grants and one from SOAR (Save Our Aging Religious) to cover initial installation. Because the provincial chapter is soon, we hope that the wider use of solar panels might be a topic for discussion and commitment. With St. Francis, we praise God for Brother Sun, who shines on us all, provides energy to all beings on earth, an energy that is God’s gift, free for the taking! Why not work with the Sun? We think it’s a great idea!

- Sr. Janice Farnham, RJM - St. Timothy Mission Center, Warwick, RI

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