True to their religious community's founder, the Sisters of St. Francis of the Holy Cross continue to care for God's creation.
Their deep commitment expanded Aug. 28 when the sisters held a dedication and blessing of 280 solar panels behind their motherhouse near Green Bay.
The array supplements the 416 panels that were installed in 2014. The community of 50 sisters now draws 50% of their convent's electrical power from the sun.
"The sisters are real educators," said Green Bay Bishop David Ricken, who joined the community and guests for a morning celebration and blessed the new panels with holy water. "Part of their charism as Franciscans is to follow the principles of St. Francis, who loved creation so much.
"So they are real educators in how we are using energy and making our lives more sustainable so the next generation can benefit," the bishop told The Compass, newspaper of the Green Bay Diocese.
Sr. Ann Rehrauer, community president, told guests in her welcome address that the new solar panels will allow the sisters to increase their solar energy output from 28% to 50% of their electrical needs. The project was funded with grants from Focus on Energy, which partners with Wisconsin utility companies to help reduce wasteful energy usage; RENEW Wisconsin, which promotes renewable energy usage; and gifts from donors and an estate.
"Our community strives every day to live more sustainably," said Sr. Rose Jochmann, who chairs the community's sustainability committee. "We want to make choices that will use our earth's resources wisely and care for the earth."
Another choice Jochmann cited is the sisters' motherhouse, built in 2004, which took advantage of features such as energy-efficient lighting and 90% efficient boilers.
"For both of the (solar panel) projects, you look at the cost and say, 'I don't know if we can do that,' but we valued the statement that our solar panels would make: We want to use less of the earth's resources; we want to care for our earth," she told guests attending the dedication. "So, we installed the solar panels, creating energy that's completely green and is not producing any pollution."
Both solar panel arrays were manufactured in the United States, Jochmann said. Cost of the original array was $286,000. The new addition cost about 20% less than the first panels.
Jochmann said the original solar panels are each rated at 270 watts. "Over those five years, we saved over $60,000 and we offset almost 500 tons of carbon emissions," she explained, "so we are trying to do our part to reduce our carbon footprint."
The efficiency and costs of solar panels have improved in five years, Jochmann added. The new array are rated at 350 watts each, take up less space than the original panels and produce nearly the same amount of energy, she said.
Projections call for the full solar panel investment to be paid for in utility cost savings in 15 years.
Jochmann said another goal of the project is to educate the wider community about renewable energy and solar energy in particular. A path was built around the panels to allow the public to see the setup and learn how it works.
The path includes seven plaques that explain how solar energy is produced, why it was chosen and whether solar energy is a good choice in a cold climate. Jochmann said that about 500 people have viewed the panels since 2014.