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San Jose Diocese Installs Solar Panels at Schools, Cemetery
Carol Zimmermann
Source: Catholic News Service
Published: Tuesday, April 20, 2010
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Solar panels sit atop the roof of Holy Spirit School in San Jose, Calif.
WASHINGTON (CNS)—What started out as parish meetings about recycling, conserving energy and eliminating water bottles has become part of a broad movement in the Diocese of San Jose, Calif., that has made green efforts a top priority, literally, by installing solar panels on the rooftops of five of its Catholic elementary schools.

Solar panels also were installed this year at Gate of Heaven diocesan cemetery.
As of this February, solar power has been operating at all six sites and plans are under way to add more locations.

According to diocesan new releases about the installation, the current system of more than 5,000 solar panels, which cover 70,000 square feet of rooftop space, will eliminate approximately 21,000 tons of carbon dioxide in 25 years—equivalent to planting 377 acres of trees or removing 5,179 cars from the nation's roads for one year.

San Jose Bishop Patrick J. McGrath called the installation an "outstanding achievement" that "strengthens our goal of encouraging the Catholic community and all people of faith to examine how we use and share the earth's resources."

Perpetual Energy Systems, a Los Angeles-based group that finances solar-powered energy, put up the initial funds for the project and the diocese in turn buys power back. MBL-Energy and Photon Energy Services—California energy firms—designed and constructed the solar plans for the diocese.

Reid Rutherford, founder and CEO of Photon Energy Services, told Catholic News Service in a recent telephone interview that initial conversations with diocesan officials began about two years ago.

"They wanted to be stewards in two ways," he said, referring to the diocese's concern about being financially responsible for the endeavor. "We showed them how they could save money," he added.

The schools are still connected to conventional electricity and use it at night or when it rains. When the sun is shining, solar serves the buildings needs, Rutherford said. And when the buildings are not in use, in the summer, for example, power flows out into the neighborhood and the buildings get credited for that power.

Although the schools seemed like a natural spot for the solar panels, a cemetery might not come immediately to mind as another place that could use alternative power. Rutherford pointed out that cemeteries use a fair amount of electricity for irrigation pumps used to water the grounds.

Scott Springborn, solar energy chairman for the Catholic Green Initiative of Santa Clara County, which includes the San Jose Diocese, Santa Clara University, Catholic Charities and the Presentation Retreat and Conference Center in Los Gatos, said the diocesan solar planning involved a fair amount of education and discussion at the parish level.

For his part, Springborn talked to a lot of parishioners and prepared information for parish bulletins on the project. He said people were primarily excited about it but also had a lot of unrealistic expectations of "super, super low costs."

He said the diocese will save money in the long run, and will be providing a lesson for young people about the importance of caring for the environment.

"Our spirituality forces us to think of how we care for earth," he said.

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