ASHEVILLE — With a blessing of holy water and the flick of a few switches, St. Eugene Church became the first parish in the U.S. to launch a solar energy program in the spirit of Pope Francis' environmental encyclical "Laudato Si': On Care of Our Common Home."
Parish organizers, church members, community leaders and more than 100 Asheville Catholic students gathered Oct. 28 to help Father Patrick Cahill, pastor, power up the 146 solar panels now positioned all over the roof of the church's parish hall.
The first panels were installed Sept. 21 to coincide with the pope's apostolic visit to the U.S.
Parishioners and Asheville Catholic students signed their names on the backs of the panels to remember that day and the pope's visit. One parishioner wrote: "These are the People's Panels. We sign them to remember our response to the Pope's Encyclical when he came here."
Pictured: Installers from MB Haynes Energy Solutions of Asheville placed the solar panels on the roof of St. Eugene Church's parish hall. (Photos provided by St. Eugene Church)
The $142,500 project was a joint effort of the parish's Care of Creation committee, the pastoral council, diocesan officials and Father Cahill. Parishioners raised the money through donations and matching grants, reaching their goal six months after a "Solar Sunday Weekend" appeal in March.
The system is expected to generate 45.99 kilowatts of power, about 22 percent of the church's electricity needs. The system will be "net metered," which means that when the system produces more electricity than what the church uses, the meter runs backward. That excess electricity flows back out to the power grid and Duke Energy provides a credit in the same amount as it would have charged.
Each panel cost approximately $1,000 and comes with a 25-year warranty. MB Haynes Energy Solutions of Asheville installed the system, which is owned by the parish and insured by Catholic Mutual of Omaha at no additional cost.
Cardinal Peter Turkson, president of the Vatican's Pontifical Council for Justice and Peace, congratulated St. Eugene Parish on its solar panel project.
In an Oct. 15 letter to organizer Bill Maloney, Cardinal Turkson wrote, "I wish to strongly congratulate your team, your parish, Father Pat Cahill and yourself for the great achievement in the care of creation. I am sure your example will be inspiring to many ecclesial structures.
"I also thank you for your support to the Holy Father Pope Francis and to his recent Encyclical Laudato Si'."
While St. Eugene Church is the first to install solar panels inspired by Pope Francis' encyclical on the environment, the parish is not the first in the diocese to have solar panels. That distinction goes to St. Stephen Mission in Elkin, which had solar panels installed on the roof of its fellowship hall in 2010.
St. Eugene's kickoff event was a success, Maloney noted. "The event (on Oct. 28) was full of fun and excitement. Father Pat, N.C. Representative John Ager and City Councilman Gordon Smith, representing Asheville Mayor Esther Manheimer, addressed the group.
Father Pat Cahill powers on the new 146 solar panels atop St. Eugene Church's parish hall during the ribbon-cutting ceremony Oct. 28. (Photos provided by John Warner)
"The day was drizzly and overcast, but as we started to move outside to bless the panels and cut the ribbon, the clouds parted and out came bright sunshine."
"This was an historic day," Father Cahill added. "As far as we know, we're the only Catholic church that has installed solar panels, and it makes a big statement in our community of the importance of taking care of God's creation. It was a thrill to receive a letter of congratulations from Cardinal Turkson the very day we turned them on and officially 'went solar.'"
The parish's electricity bill runs approximately $1,797 per month, or about $21,564 per year. Project organizers know the solar panels will cut these costs, but besides saving money, they see this renewable energy solution as helping to reduce the church's carbon footprint. And protecting God's creation is an important part of the Christian mission, they say.
Maloney summarizes the parish's effort: "Parishioners took up the challenge to 'Care for the Earth.' There was excitement, and donations poured in because it was something concrete and everyone owned the project.
"We picked solar. What if every Catholic parish, school, 'home and business in the United States picked just one thing and did it? What a difference this would make for our children and grandchildren."
—SueAnn Howell, Senior reporter
Want to watch the solar panels live?
Try one of these four options:
Option 1 – Public mode: For a quick look copy this into your browser's address bar: https://monitoringpublic.solaredge.com/solaredge-web/p/site/public?name=St Eugene Catholic Church#/dashboard
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