Sunny days power parishes – Arlington Catholic Herald

Jesus tells his disciples to proclaim his words from the housetops, said Father Robert C. Cilinski. The pastor of Church of the Nativity in Burke thinks the sun-absorbing equipment recently installed on the roof of his church is doing just that. “Our solar panels are on the rooftop shouting the wisdom of ‘Laudato Si,’ the social teaching of the church,” he said. 

In 2019, Our Lady, Queen of Peace Church in Arlington was the first parish in the diocese to have solar panels installed, and this year three parishes are following suit: Nativity, St. Bernadette Church in Springfield and St. Anthony of Padua Church in Falls Church. 

Father Cilinksi said he and the Nativity
community went solar to protect the environment and save the parish money. “We’re
told that in the next 20 years, it will eliminate 7,700 metric tons of carbon
dioxide, produce 91,000 kilowatts of electricity and save about $200,000,” said
Father Cilinski. “For us, not only was saving money a factor, but really we did
it for the prophetic witness that it provides. It’s a response to Pope Francis,
who asked us to care for our common home.”

Catholic Energies, a service of the
Catholic Climate Covenant, helped all three parishes through the process. The
group starts by examining several factors, such as a parish’s energy
consumption and what the utility company charges them, to see if switching to
solar would help their bottom line. “A lot of variables go into whether
renewable energy and energy efficiency makes financial sense for a Catholic
organization, and it’s our job to help them figure that out so that they can make
fully informed decisions,” said Page Gravely, Catholic Energies’ head of client

Parishes have an
option to get solar panels installed with no upfront costs through a power
purchase agreement. “With a diocese-approved power purchase agreement, we go
out and find the investor who will pay for that entire installed solar project.
Solar is fed into Dominion’s grid and Dominion feeds the power to the building,”
said Gravely.  “The power purchase
agreement defines the rate for the solar power and the overall goal is that
rate is lower than what (the parish) was paying Dominion. Dominion credits
their bills for the solar generated.” Through the agreement, parishes can get
power- and cost-saving LED lighting retrofits as well.

Using renewable energy and making church
buildings more energy efficient will make a difference in reducing the amount
of carbon dioxide in the atmosphere, said Gravely. “About a third of greenhouse
gas emissions in the United States come from buildings,” he said. “(With
solar), clean energy is now being fed back into the energy grid and they’re
utilizing that clean energy directly at the parish level, displacing what they
were consuming — such as power from a coal plant.”

After hearing about Catholic Energies at
a conference last year, Father Donald J. Rooney, pastor of St. Bernadette, was ready
to see if solar would work for his parish. “I think we all have to start living
more sustainably,” he said. “We have an obligation to try to do what we can to
stop consuming so much energy and resources.”

Over the next 20
years, St. Bernadette will save $325,000 in utility costs, and at the end of
that period the parish will have the option to purchase the panels for a very
low cost. They should last for another 10 to 30 years, said Rick Caporali,
pastoral associate. “Which means free energy for 30 years,” said Father Rooney.

“It’s worthwhile to teach people the
need to care for creation,” said Caporali. “This is just the right thing to


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