School Sisters Going Solar

Congregation installing panels at their Sacred Heart building on South Side.

By - Oct 31st, 2017 01:56 pm
Solar panels being installed at 1545 S. Layton Blvd. Photo courtesy of Arch Electric Inc.

Solar panels being installed at 1545 S. Layton Blvd. Photo courtesy of Arch Electric Inc.

Traditional religion and green energy might not seem the likeliest pairing at first glance.

But both principles are important to the School Sisters of Saint Francis, who are in the midst of an ambitious project to install a 1,000-panel solar system at the congregation’s Sacred Heart building, 1545 S. Layton Blvd.

“(The project) is very much in keeping with the way that our province is living out our congregational direction by joining with others to raise a common voice for the good of all creation,” said Sister Carol Rigali of the organization’s U.S.-based leadership team in a statement.

All told, the work at Sacred Heart is expected to cost around $950,000 — a price tag reflecting the lowered cost of installing solar-based infrastructure. Experts note that costs associated with the technology have progressively gotten cheaper over the past decade.

In the long run, operating costs at Sacred Heart will be trimmed by 12 percent annually because of the efficiency of relying on solar, rather than traditional electric power.

Rigali in her statement equated the annualized savings to $1.5 million over a 25-year period.

Hal Karas has helped shepherd the School Sisters’ project, which is expected to wrap this fall. He is an attorney with Milwaukee-based law firm Husch Blackwell, who specializes in real estate, development and construction.

Karas, who has worked with the School Sisters of Saint Francis on multiple occasions over the years, says projects such as the solar panel installation fit hand-in-glove into the philosophy of Pope Francis, and his recent missives on being responsible stewards of the planet.

“(The School Sisters of Saint Francis) are very concerned about the same kinds of issues,” Karas explains. “The Pope had mentioned this being a moral obligation … to help in healing the world. He had specifically mentioned solar power.”

Arch Electric, a Plymouth-based firm, is overseeing the project at Sacred Heart, which serves as the School Sisters of Saint Francis’ retirement and healthcare facility. A Mississippi firm, Seraphim Solar USA Manufacturing, is supplying the panels and related infrastructure.

Before the heavy lifting got underway,  a number of logistical steps had to be taken, Karas notes. Bonds had to be taken out, for instance, as did a power-purchase agreement. The School Sisters of Saint Francis also took out a rooftop lease to an affiliate of Arch Electric.

While solar power brings with it a number of long-term dividends, from a financial and environmental stewardship perspective, Karas cautions there are multiple steps and concerns in the process.

He says residential, commercial and institutional property owners and developers should be mindful of the project specifications, warranties and the various provisions for solar credits.

That said, he expects more such developments. “There are developers out there who are concerned enough about the environment, and they are incorporating solar into their plans,” Karas notes.

And he hopes the efforts of the School Sisters of Saint Francis will lead to heightened interest in solar across the city.

“I love working with the Sisters,” Karas says. “They are so cool. They are a fabric of this community.”

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