By Lindsay Steele
The Catholic Messenger
CLINTON — The Sisters of St. Francis in Clinton are shining a light on their desire to be good stewards of the earth by harnessing the power of solar energy. Rows of blue solar panels now line the prairie next to The Canticle, home of the Sisters of St. Francis.
These solar panels will provide about 40 percent of The Canticle’s energy needs. “Our sisters are very excited about it,” said Sister Anne Martin Phelan, president of the Sisters of St. Francis in Clinton.
Work to install the solar panels began in October, but the sisters had been considering making an investment in alternative energy for a few years, either with wind or solar power. While the newer administrative building next to The Canticle was built for energy efficiency, Sr. Phelan said the older Canticle building “is larger and uses a lot of electricity. We were concerned about the ecological effect of using so much electrical energy.”
The sisters were uneasy about the energy usage, but also unsure about the cost and maintenance involved with installing an alternative energy source. Their prayers were answered when prices for solar energy began to fall recently and they found an ally in a local alternative energy company, Independent Energy Systems.
“Solar energy made a lot more sense for them because it is less maintenance,” said Amy Maresca, CEO of the Clinton-area-based company. “It’s essentially ‘set and forget.’”
Maresca said The Canticle is the perfect location for harnessing solar energy because the adjacent prairie faces south. “It makes a big difference. They can maximize the panels’ potential.”
Independent Energy Systems broke ground for the framework in October, utilizing local labor. They installed the distinctive blue panels last month. Half of the panels are now making energy and the other half will be activated in April.
Sr. Phelan said the sisters demonstrated curiosity during the six-month process.
Independent Energy Systems “did a presentation to explain the project, what was going to happen, how it was going to be put together and how it was going to work. The Sisters enjoyed knowing those things.”
Eventually, a monitor will be installed in The Canticle to show the sisters how much energy the 324 panels are processing on any given day.
Maresca said The Canticle’s solar panel setup and meters will allow energy to be stored and used at night or on cloudy days when not as much energy is being produced.
While Sr. Phelan declined to share the cost of the project, she said the solar panels will eventually save The Canticle money on energy costs each month. As a nonprofit, The Canticle did not qualify for tax credits available to residences or for-profit businesses, so it could take several years before the project pays for itself. “We are using an alternate energy resource, the sun. In many ways, that’s more valuable to us than the cost-saving factor,” Sr. Phelan said.
Maresca said the panels should work for at least 50 years. She commended the sisters for their commitment to using renewable energy. “It’s amazing to me that they’ve really grasped exactly what solar energy can do for their whole establishment.… They’re a wonderful group of ladies and they’ve been a joy to work with. It’s neat to see their intentions are true and don’t go by wayside. They’re stewards of the earth, they obviously feel that.”