Solar Paneling: Perhaps the Sisters’ Most Charitable Mission Yet

Dateline: student newspaper

By: Sasha Feldmann

Environmental pollution may be one of the most severe and most pressing issues afflicting the earth, and yet it can easily be said to be one of the most ignored. “Going green” has been thrown around so much, it’s nearly devoid of meaning entirely. The fact of the matter is that any other possible issue you can conjure is rendered null and void if there is no planet to host, and thus it must take some sort of precedence. Unfortunately, it is often forgotten, as many of the direct effects of pollutions are not tangible.

However, there are tangible solutions. In the EPA’s 2014 overview of greenhouse gasses, the total emissions were equivalent to 6,870 million metric tons of CO₂, the source of which being the burning of fossil fuels. Taking an extraordinary step, the Sisters of Charity of Cincinnati have begun switching their source of power for the motherhouse and the corner houses to solar paneling. In their mission statement is written “We take seriously our responsibility as stewards of the Earth, and we challenge ourselves to see communal and personal environmental sustainability,” and this momentous decision reflects just how seriously.

The process was directed by the Leadership Council of the Sisters of Charity, on which sits Sister Marge Kloos, a retired professor of pastoral studies who continues to teach classes in social justice and theology, and Sister Mary Bookser, who was the Director of Service Learning at the Mount for a number of years and is an adjunct instructor. Both have been heavily involved in the project. Kloos generously agreed to take the time to sit down and provide some insight into the process.

The first step, she explained, was an energy audit. There had to be a thorough assessment of the properties, to look at the amount of energy usage, energy capacity, and carbon footprint. Next, a committee called The Green Team with some of the lay sisters, with the help of a company called Melink, figured out a project that would help accomplish their goal upon which they could almost instantly embark. In the kitchen of the motherhouse, what utilized the most energy was the hood fan over the stove, which is used nearly 24/7. With Melink’s help, the sisters replaced the hood fan with their IntelliHood. This replacement hood is energy-efficient. As the company’s product description explains, it monitors the cooking activity and instructs the exhaust fan to work only as fast as necessary. Kloos noted that not only does it preserve energy, but it makes for a better quality of life for the employees, which is a major priority of the sisters.

The second project, once finished, would be on a much grander scale. Still partnered with Melink, an engineer from the company, Seth Parker, helped walk the sisters through the technology. They wanted to make a substantial impact, but still have a manageable project. Therefore, they decided to begin with the corner houses, where some of the sisters reside, and work their way up to the motherhouse. This past summer, geothermal technology was installed in two of the houses, reducing the cost of heating and air conditioning. Kloos tells me the residents love it. It heats and cools very easily through every season and isn’t the least bit noisy. I asked what her role was in the installation process. She laughed, “I watched them install it. I didn’t have any role in that.”

The next phase of the project was the six residences on the corner of Delhi and Neeb receiving solar paneling. “We wanted to have something visible to say that we believe in the future of these technologies,” Sister Kloos says, “We want to participate in making it cost effective for everyone.” According to engineer Parker, just for those six houses, the ecological savings will be equivalent to 120,000 miles driven, or 54,000 pounds of coal, or planting 1,291 tree seedlings per year, and the technology will last 35 to 40 years. Moreover, electric bills are lower and their carbon footprint is reduced. The goal is net zero, meaning that all of the houses will eventually run on solar panels.

Kloos advises other businesses, institutions, or even homes interested in becoming more energy efficient and cost effective to begin with an energy audit. Then, it is beneficial to find another corporation involved in the field to collaborate with, and discover what is cost-prohibitive and what projects can be completed effectively. A business article from The Cincinnati Enquirer asserts that solar power is now cheaper than coal in some places, and is more attainable than ever. Since 2009, solar prices are down 62%, and by 2025, it may be cheaper than coal on average globally. Geothermal technology, specifically, emits no greenhouse gases, and can lower utility bills over time by 70%. Lastly, even though the fossil fuel industry has a great number of employees, the market for alternative energy sources is growing and jobs in the field are in high demand.

When I asked Kloos for her remarks on the technology, her response to those who don’t believe the issue has any stake in their lives today, or dismiss it entirely is this: “Over time we have been creative and inventive enough to make technology from a resource that God has given us for free,” she said. She frowned a bit at the second question, at the thought, and said, “We have a moral obligation to the future to live ethically now so that there can be a future. This is God’s creation and our moral responsibility to care for it is without question. Our planet is screaming for our care, and the future of the planet depends on the way we live right now.” I do not think I could say it better.