Let there be light


More energy from the sun falls on the earth in one hour than is used by everyone in the world in a whole year.

At least one parish isn’t letting it go to waste.

Last year St. Monica-St. George in Cincinnati installed 119 solar panels on the roofs of its Catholic Center and garage. In a press conference on Monday, the Archdiocese encouraged other faith communities and homeowners to jump on the energy-saving bandwagon.

In observance of Earth Day on April 22 and the People’s Climate Rally on April 29, they invited the media to see how one parish has shown its care for creation – and is saving money in the process.

"A year and a half ago we held a press conference to celebrate Laudato Si," Pope Francis’ urgent plea to protect our planet, said Tony Stieritz, Catholic Social Action Director for the Archdiocese of Cincinnati. That’s when Pastor Al Hirt outlined SMSG’s ambitious plan to reduce its carbon footprint by harnessing solar power and replacing its lighting with long-lasting LED bulbs.

Multiply savings

They not only made it happen, they did it without touching the parish budget. The $160,000 energy-saving project was funded completely by donations from parishioners. Propping a solar panel in back of the church as a yardstick of progress for its "Brother Sun Campaign", the pastor urged everyone to pitch in. Religious ed kids held bake sales, raising enough for half a panel. University of Cincinnati students donated funds to buy several.

"From the moment the panels were energized, we’ve been saving money," said Al. In the last eight years the average electric bill for the parish was $28,000. This year, with solar power and LED savings, the projected bill is $12,000.

"If one church can take this simple measure, think of what 10 churches, 20 churches can do," Al said. "If more and more of us do that, we reduce our consumption of fossil fuels and help the planet," particularly the population most affected by energy-wasting practices, the poor. "We’re not just lowering our electric bill. Think of what it might mean to our common home."

Up on the roof

With 211 parishes in the 19-county Archdiocese, the savings could be staggering, said solar contractor Matt Kolbinski of PRO Lighting and Solar Solutions, LLC. Recapping the project and its challenges, he called SMSG "one of the most progressive parishes in the Archdiocese." Rob McCracken of the Greater Cincinnati Energy Alliance Project congratulated Al and the parish for taking the lead in the solar movement. "Solar can work," he said – especially in Hamilton County, which has logged more solar installations than any county in the state.

Al invited guests to join him on the roof of the parish center to get a closer look at solar technology. For those who dared, the steep climb straight up a scary series of narrow rungs was worth it. "They can withstand 120 mile-per-hour winds and golf ball-sized hail," Matt said of the solar panels laid out in rows atop the center. "There are no moving parts. Everything is remotely monitored." All pretty impressive.

Under blue skies, with solar panels gleaming in the sun, the future of the planet looked a little bit brighter.