By Will Shaw
“Pope Francis calls us to develop a “loving awareness” of this home we share and to act on the values we hold dear. (Laudito Si 220)
Standing on the firm ground of “three fundamental and closely intertwined relationships: with God, with our neighbor, and with the Earth itself,” we commit to setting out “on the long path of renewal.” (Laudito Si 66, 202)”
– Laudito Si Action Platform
The Missionary Oblates have long been committed to preserving our environment. Each Oblate ministry, in its own way, seeks to be in harmony with the goals articulated above in the Action Platform of Pope Francis’ Encyclical Letter,
“Laudito Si:” The leadership at the National Shrine of Our Lady of the Snows had this in mind when they made the recent decision to partner with a company to construct a facility on the grounds that will generate electricity through solar power.
The economic and environmental benefits of going partially solar were described by the project manager, Joe Pytlinski, Director of Finance for the U.S. Oblate Province: “When the solar panels are fully online at the beginning of 2024, we expect them to generate over 2 million kilowatt hours of clean, solar-generated electricity annually, which, when combined with new efficiency measures, should offset about 45% of the 5.4-million-kilowatt hours used by the Oblates each year.“
Construction of the solar facility is currently taking place on 5.5 acres of the Shrine. The site will have some 2,782 solar panels, each capable of generating 450 watts of electricity when completed. Site manager, Eric Brockway, said physical installation should be completed by August 31, with power generation beginning in early 2024.
The Shrine is getting this facility at no out-of-pocket cost. The Shrine provides a 25-year lease of the land to the solar company which then then pays for the materials, construction, and eventual maintenance of the panels for the life of the contract. The Shrine will purchase all the electricity generated at approximately half the going rate from the solar company and at the end of the 25 years, the Shrine may purchase the facility for continued use or remove it. The solar equipment is expected to have a useful life of 40 years.
In addition to saving money, the Shrine’s commitment to solar energy also provides benefits to the environment as a whole, Crunching the numbers, Joe Pytlinski estimates: “The facility is expected to generate a total of 2.1 million kilowatt hours of clean solar electricity annually, which, with efficiency measures, will reduce the Shrine’s annual usage of electricity 428,000 kilowatt hours. Over the life of the contract, we expect to reduce the Oblate’s carbon footprint by nearly 45,000 tons of carbon monoxide.”
In “Laudito Si,” Pope Francis calls everyone to, “commit to setting out “on the long path of renewal.” As the Oblates at the Shrine launch their first solar project, it’s clear that they have taken an important first step on that long path.