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St. Monica/St. George parish to light up via solar energy

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Father Al Hirt, left, holds one of the solar panels that will provide energy to light the campus from church, to parish center, to maintenance garage, to parking lot. (CT Photo/E.L. Hubbard)
Father Al Hirt, left, holds one of the solar panels that will provide energy to light the campus from church, to parish center, to maintenance garage, to parking lot. (CT Photo/E.L. Hubbard)

No doubt, the sun shines on every parish in the Archdiocese of Cincinnati, and very soon St. Monica/St. George will be making the most of it.

The Clifton parish is the first in the archdiocese to convert to solar energy to light the campus from church, to parish center, to maintenance garage, to parking lot. To complete the task, there will be 143 panels on the center roof and another 20 on the maintenance garage – a total of 163, said Franciscan Father Al Hirt, pastor. The project started in early December with lighting. Installation of solar panels will come after some structural work is completed to accommodate them.

“We needed a new roof on the center and, at a team meeting, we decided to think about solar panels. That idea goes back… five, six, seven years. There are people who are very conscious of the environment in our parish.” The first thought was to change light bulbs from incandescent it LED.

“Then we asked ourselves, ‘Is there anything else we can do to save energy?’ When we decided to put a new roof on the center, it was time to think about it all,” he said.

Matt Kolbinsky, president of PRO Lighting & Solar, LLC, Colerain Township, said the project “will definitely be a lighting improvement with less electricity being drawn. Duke Energy is going to give us $13,822 in incentive money for the project. They are essentially doing that with the contractor, SECO Electrical Contractors. They are basically giving them that money to knock off of the lighting cost.

“It’s basically a lighting improvement and a solar project. We noticed there were a lot of opportunities with the lighting as well as lighting technology. It is old technology they have now and, if you look at both pieces together the lighting piece is going to reduce the footprint of this parish by 36 kilowatt hours; the solar piece will reduce the footprint by 40.75 kilowatt hours for a total of a 76.75 kilowatt hour reduction in energy – for the specific parish alone, Kolbinsky said.

Usage will tumble from 134,680 kilowatt hours to 98,580 just for the lighting improvements and the solar panel installation will bring it significantly lower again to 58,558 kilowatt hours. It’s more than a 50 percent reduction in electric usage.

Presently the parish spends upwards of $26,000 annually for electricity. That bill is expected to fall to about $12,000 on completion of the project. There is a 25-year warranty on the solar panels.

“If we’re looking at this from a carbon footprint reduction, as far as the parish … helping the environment, … this project will be the equivalent of planting 31 acres of forest, taking 25 cars off the road and not burning 60 tons of coal a year combined. Multiply that by the more than 200 parishes in this archdiocese,” Kolbinsky said.“As far as lighting and solar combined, this parish is the mother ship, the leader. Seriously, even when you look at the fund-raising efforts, these are things that can be emulated across all parishes. We can duplicate this and say, ‘Hey, this is what they did at Monica/St. George Church,” he said. “When you look at the leadership and the vision here, when so many other parishes like this one see what they’re doing here, the phone will be ringing  off the hook.”

Jeff Bohrer, the archdiocese’s director of property management and real estate said “the archdiocese strongly encourages energy efficiency in our parishes and schools.

It has been so exciting this past year to see many parish campuses completely changing lighting out to LED. Not only is St. Monica/St. George completing a full LED retrofit to their facilities … they are also the first parish to make a major investment in renewable energy. I am thrilled to see our parishes investing not only in energy efficiency but now also in renewable energy, Bohrer said. This dedication to caring for our earth is truly an example of responding to the call of Pope Francis and his recent encyclical on the environment, Laudato Si’.  St. Monica/St. George is not only making an investment that will pay great dividends financially, but it is also investing in the future generations and the health of our planet.  We congratulate St. Monica/St. George on their pioneering effort.”

As for funding the $173,000 project, a capital campaign already has secured more than $100,000 through pledges from the 650 to 700 families along with 500 registered students at the University of Cincinnati.

“We have already had somebody give $30,000. I made another phone call and she said, ‘I’ll give $20,000.’ Then somebody gave $13,000,” Father Hirt said. “Then, what we did is ‘sponsor a panel’. A panel is $750, which is the cost of the whole project —163 panels.  A couple getting married is doing 10 of them. that’s $7,500. A lot of people are saying they will sponsor. University of Cincinnati students are involved in sponsoring four of the panels.”


This story first appeared in the January 2016 print edition of The Catholic Telegraph.

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