The Poor Handmaids of Jesus Christ are proud to announce the first phase of a renewable energy effort, starting with two solar arrays at The Center at Donaldson.
“We Poor Handmaids seek to show by our choices the respect we have for all of God’s creation or, as Pope Francis says in Laudato Sí to protect our common home,’” said PHJC Provincial Sister Judith Diltz. “Our choice to invest in solar panels will help us be less dependent on fossil fuels for energy.”
The 280-panel, 83 kilowatt (KW) installation is the culmination of 20 months of research and energy-related efforts completed by a project team led by Adam Thada, Director of Ecological Relationships.
“I had the privilege of joining The Center at Donaldson in 2016 to continue the Poor Handmaid’s longtime efforts around sustainability and Creation care,” said Thada. “Energy usage is by far the largest impact of what we call our ‘ecological relationships.’”
The team first compiled data on electricity usage across campus. To gather ideas, they visited several solar and energy efficiency projects across the region.
The first step was an LED lighting retrofit at the Motherhouse, Ancilla College, Lindenwood Retreat and Conference Center, and Catherine Kasper Life Center. Thousands of old lights were recycled with help from the Marshall County Recycle Depot and replaced with high-efficiency LEDs. A NIPSCO efficiency program helped defray some of the costs.
“Energy efficiency is the first step. It is the best financially and from a resource use perspective. Then you can move on to renewables,” Thada noted. “The LEDs alone have dropped our electric demand by 500,000 kilowatt-hours (kWh) each year. This is equivalent to taking more than 50 average homes off the grid, or enough to drive an electric car across the United States 640 times.”
The Center at Donaldson was aided by Appalachian Institute for Renewable Energy (aire-nc.org), who specializes in working with non-profits to effectively own and operate renewable energy systems. AIRE assisted the project team in choosing the best installation site and vendor for the project.
Ag Technologies, Inc. of Rochester, IN will be installing the arrays this summer, using U.S.-made Solarworld panels. Their patented SolarCAM® system consists of ground-mounted, tiltable arrays that are adjusted four times per year to track the sun’s angle for maximum energy production.
The two arrays will help power MoonTree Studios art gallery and The Center at Donaldson’s wastewater treatment plant. The systems have no batteries for energy storage, but rely on “net metering.” Excess power produced during the day is sent back to the utility’s grid and credited to the customer, who draws power when the sun goes down.
“There is still a window of opportunity for homeowners, businesses, and local governments to sign up for solar net metering during the next couple years,” said Thada.
According to the 2017 Net Metering Report, more customer-owned renewable energy was added in 2017 than in all previous years combined. Indiana now has nearly 2,000 net metering customers.
“Stewardship is a choice,” said Thada. “We know scientifically that continuing use of fossil fuels will lead to more workers with black lung disease, children with asthma, and babies with low birth-weights, in addition to massive ecological disruption. Fortunately, alternatives are now available. Ultimately, we get to decide what our legacy will be.”
The project team will monitor the solar system’s performance and watch trends in the renewable energy industry to determine how a larger Phase 2 project could be implemented.