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Blending the past with the future

Blending the past with the future - (04-04-2012)

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PHOTO: The Santa Catalina Mountains peak over the top of the new solar panel array recently installed by the Benedictine Sisters of Perpetual Adoration in Tucson, Ariz. The system will produce 80 percent of the monastery’s power needs, saving almost $28,000 each year on utility costs.

TUCSON, Ariz. – It was the result of a perfect storm...under sunny skies.

For years, the Benedictine Sisters of Perpetual Adoration in Tucson had investigated expanding their foray into solar energy. With the creation of tax credits to inspire homeowners and businesses to explore renewable energy options and no-money-up-front lease options, the Sisters’ dream has finally become a reality.

This spring, they purchased an array of solar panels that have been installed by Technicians for Sustainability that will account for 80 percent of their future electrical energy needs. The project, which adds to the roof-top solar panels the Sisters installed five years ago that heat water for the monastery, fulfills a variety of goals: further decreases dependence on non-renewable energy sources, impacts the environment in positive ways and eliminates a large portion of their energy costs.

“Arizona is one of the sunniest places in the United States with regards to the amount of average sunlight per day,” said Sister Joan Ridley, OSB, who serves as subprioress for the community and is overseeing their latest project. “When solar panels convert the sun’s rays into electricity, they produce no air pollution, no hazardous waste or noise. The more electricity and heat that we convert from the sun’s rays decreases our reliance and dependence on fossil fuels and on imported sources of energy. It helps us do a good thing for ourselves and for the planet.”

It’s a numbers game

 “There are a lot of numbers involved when converting to solar energy - all good ones,” Sister Joan said.

Tucson Prioress Sister Ramona Varela, OSB agrees, “It boggles the mind how much we consume our earth’s resources. Each person makes a much bigger impact than we think. As Benedictines, as monastics, we strive to protect the earth’s resources and to leave this world better than we found it.”

Using solar energy saves 11,142 gallons of water, which would be used each month by the local power company in order to produce electricity for the monastery. It also means lowering the Sisters’ carbon footprint by preventing 50,000 pounds of carbon dioxide from being released into the air, a byproduct of using commercial power.

And there’s also the bottom line - the new solar panels will mean more money at the end of each month. Before the installation of the solar panels, the Sisters’ electric bill averaged $2,900 each month. The Sisters will continue to pay for about 20 percent of the non-solar generated electricity in the future, which will amount to a bill of around just $580 each month. However, those rates will be locked into the 2012 rate they currently pay, resulting in additional savings over the years.

According to a report by GreenTech Media last fall, solar panel installations doubled from 2010 to 2011. Experts predict that number will double again by the end of 2012.

State and federal tax credits, ranging from 25 to 30 percent, help homeowners and business customers make the switch to solar. However, as a not-for-profit, the Sisters cannot use those tax credits directly. But that’s where companies like Technicians for Sustainability come in. Not-for-profit organizations like the Benedictine Sisters can transfer their tax credits to a credit company that finances the project, which reduces the cost of the panels.

The Sisters took advantage of a lease-to-own option, which allows them to finance the new system at a cost of 80 percent of their current bill. After a period of 10 to 12 years, they will own the system outright.


Role model for others 

Tucson has been the site for several projects like this recently, including a variety of religious groups hoping to score big with solar energy and save the earth’s finite resources. According to Sister Joan, Our Mother of Sorrows Catholic Church began producing solar late last year. They are joined by Temple Emanu-El, Pantano Christian Church and a handful of other not-for-profit organizations.

“We have been fortunate to work with many not-for-profits in and around Tucson to make their solar visions a reality,” said Danielle Kontovas of Technicians for Sustainability. “With our community leasing model, we are able to offer these customers solar electricity for less than what they are currently paying for conventional electricity. Similar programs exist for residential customers, which has made solar a reality for many homes, businesses and non-profits in our community. One solar system at a time, we are working toward a renewable future.”

Sister Joan embraces the idea of monasteries like hers blending their rich heritage of the past with the best of current realities.

“Using the ancient power of the ever-present sun in ways that help our future is a very practical application of how we are trying to live a greener life,” Sister Joan said.

For more information about the Benedictine Sisters’ new solar energy project, please contact Sister Joan Ridley at (520) 325-6401 or joan@bspa.us