The new solar field of Catholic Charities Archdiocese of Washington

February 5, 2020

In the Archdiocese of Washington, we were blessed to dedicate a new solar array on Oct. 17, 2019. Sister Donna Markham, president and CEO of Catholic Charities USA, joined us, as well as Archbishop Wilton Gregory, archbishop of the Archdiocese of Washington, and Mayor Muriel Bowser of Washington, D.C. All spoke glowingly of this effort to respond to Pope Francis and his encyclical Laudato Sí. I’d like to tell you how this came about as my hope is that you would feel inspired to find space in your diocese to create a solar field as well – and if not a field, a solar project on existing buildings.

We are lucky enough to have a 17-acre plot in northeast Washington, just about four miles from the Capitol. The site is the former headquarters of Catholic Charities and at one point was an orphanage for needy children called Saint Joseph’s Home. When Mother Teresa was spearheading an effort to take care of AIDS patients through a new venture in Washington, the Archdiocese encouraged Catholic Charities to provide a space in the former orphanage for the Missionaries of Charity and their ministry to those living with the disease.

We realized last year that the land was not being used to its full effect and looked into building affordable housing on part of the property. At that time, we were encouraged to think about a solar array rather than affordable housing due to politics and the bureaucratic process that would hinder our efforts. Our housing division for the Archdiocese, Victory Housing, suggested we speak with Catholic Climate Covenant and Solar Energy Services. They took the lead in bringing this project to completion. The Seventh Principle of Social Justice challenges us to be good stewards of our environment. This is our mission and a challenge to us all.

Why did we say yes? First of all, we were very excited about responding directly to Pope Francis and the desire to be more environmentally friendly. The Seventh Principle of Social Justice challenges us to be good stewards of our environment. This is our mission and a challenge to us all. Secondly, we realized that this was a very good financial decision. In broad numbers, we agreed on a 15-year contract that will bring us over $5 million in either income or energy exchanges over those years. We will pay no more electrical bills in the District of Columbia for our 14 buildings that provide direct services to the poor and vulnerable. Those savings will do two things: Help us maintain a very old building for the Missionaries of Charity by providing the funds to take care of all maintenance and capital expenses, and give us an additional quarter million dollars in savings to directly assist our programs that serve our clients every day.

We met with the neighbors for their input and received valuable suggestions on how to implement a five-acre solar array on our property. Improvements to the plan now include the planting of 100 trees, which will improve storm-water management, a pollinator field rather than gravel underneath the panels, and additional environmental efforts to enhance the aesthetic beauty of the project. As always, there were some concerns raised by the community, and we did our best to address them. All is going well and we planned to have the project completed by the end of 2019.

Obviously, this is a win-win and that is why I want to encourage you to think carefully about your own properties and the potential to do the right thing while saving and providing money to help those in need. We are thrilled to be a partner with Catholic Energies and Catholic Climate Covenant in leading the way for our community. I’m particularly proud that Catholic Charities took a proactive step in making solar a part of our commitment to responding to the environmental needs of our society, not just for today, but for generations to come. We have a moral obligation to recycle. Our young people are clearly leading the way in this regard, and we hope to join in solidarity with them as they remind us in their words and actions of our responsibility to protect the great gift of nature that God has put in our hands.

If you want more information, I encourage you to contact Dan Misleh at Catholic Climate Covenant. He is very anxious to work with all who wish to pursue solar energy through their agency or parish.

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