Silicon Valley's Catholic Community Finds Higher Power in Solar Power
Cassidy: Silicon Valley's Catholic community finds higher power in solar power
By Mike Cassidy
Mercury News Columnist
Posted: 11/07/2009 04:00:00 PM PST
You know that part of the Bible where the Almighty says, "Let there be light"?
The folks at the Catholic Diocese of San Jose are all into that, as you might expect. But if they could edit that passage, which of course they wouldn't, it would read: "Let there be light — preferably produced by solar power, which treads more gently on God's green Earth."
Yes, one of Silicon Valley's oldest institutions is embracing one of its newest areas of innovation. Within months at the most, five local parishes and one cemetery will fire up on-site solar power systems to light their schools and churches, run their computers, power their nativity scenes and provide the juice to keep their coffee urns warm for after-church socials.
"On a rational level it makes sense," the Rev. Brendan McGuire, vicar general for special projects, says of going green. "But on a spiritual level, it's a much deeper reality."
The economic imperative for going green has been widely discussed and debated. The environmental imperative is all but a given. But McGuire and a working group of Santa Clara County Catholics have moved the discussion beyond saving money and saving the ozone layer. They see going green as a way to save souls.
"It's based upon the fact that everything you have is a gift from God and at the end of the day, or your days, you'll be asked to tell God what you did with the gifts that God gave you," says Penny Warne. She's the diocese's communications director and parish administrator at Almaden Valley's Holy Spirit Parish, which sports solar panels on the gymnasium and school buildings.
There's no question that in Silicon Valley, faith runs deep that the solar industry is one key to our economic salvation. So why not look at it as a path for salvation in general, if salvation in general is your mission?
But it's not just souls the diocese is trying to save. The teams of parishioners and diocese administrators who worked with an outside solar system developer to come up with the plan expect to save money, too — perhaps $3.8 million over the next 25 years, according to Photon Energy Services of Los Altos.
So far solar power is ready to go at six sites — Holy Spirit, Holy Family, St. Christopher and Queen of Apostles parishes in San Jose; St. Lucy Parish in Campbell and Gate of Heaven Cemetery in Los Altos. But solar supporters say those will be models for an expanded program.
"The intent is to get as many of the facilities as possible that the diocese owns up and producing solar power," Warne says.
There is plenty of potential. The San Jose diocese is home to about 600,000 Catholics and includes 33 parishes and missions, 31 elementary schools and six high schools. It has gotten its solar start by joining an arrangement in which Photon lined up design and construction companies to get the systems built. Photon also brought in Perpetual Energy Systems, a Woodland Hills independent power producer, which will own, maintain and operate the solar systems at the six sites. The diocese didn't pay upfront for the systems. Instead it will pay Perpetual for electricity generated at the parishes and cemetery, but it will ultimately pay rates far less than what Pacific Gas & Electric would charge, says Scott Springborn, a Holy Spirit parishioner who serves as chairman of the solar energy initiative. Better yet, the diocese will sell any surplus electricity to PG&E at the utility's higher rates.
"The diocese was very smart in how they set the project up," says Photon CEO Reid Rutherford. "They were very responsible, both ecologically and financially."
Rutherford says the project included a few firsts for Photon. The cemetery installation, for instance.
"We were surprised that they would ask," he says of Gate of Heaven. But cemetery officials explained that the pumps that run the irrigation system use a lot of electricity.
Not to mention that it only seems right that when someone flips a switch at Gate of Heaven, it will be Perpetual light that will shine upon them.
Posted in Environmental Justice on November 9, 2009 by Rjiminez