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Recognition for solar energy leadership

When State Rep. Herb Russell (D-Rutland) learned that St. Peter Parish was the first parish in the Diocese of Burlington to install money-saving solar panels to generate electricity, he said he "felt it was only correct to acknowledge and highlight something very positive."

That's why he introduced a resolution congratulating St. Peter Parish on its solar energy leadership.

An Episcopalian, Russell said the Catholic church is "a very integral part of the district" he represents, Rutland House District 5-3. "There is a richness of culture in the parish and so much history."

The solar project was part of ongoing parish efforts – that included weatherization of the rectory and installation of energy-saving LED light bulbs – to conserve both energy and funds and is "in line" with Pope Francis' call to care for "our common home," the Earth, said Order of Friars Minor, Capuchin Father Thomas Houle, pastor.

With a $20,000 grant from Green Mountain Power and a $6,000 contribution from Rutlandbased Same Sun of Vermont Inc. – which installed the panels – the parish only needed to contribute $20,000 for the $46,000 project.

As of mid-May, St. Peter's had raised more than $17,000 – cash in hand – for the project.

Among the components of the parish's solar array are 30 315-watt panels and a ground mount with six ballasts weighing a total of 48,000 pounds. Located between the former parish school and the rectory, the array is surrounded by a four-foot chain-link fence for safety.

The virtually maintenance-free system is expected to produce 12,255-kilowatt hours of clean energy per year. This will offset 183.825 tons of carbon in its lifecycle, expected to be at least 30 years.

The solar array "is certainly going to help the church," Russell said. "For them to take this great 'leap of faith,' so to speak, over the use of solar energy makes total sense."

Russell went to Rutland May 9 to present Father Houle the official resolution with a gold seal on it and signed by Shapleigh Smith Jr., speaker of the House; Phil Scott, president of the Senate; and William M. MaGill, clerk of the House of Representatives.

The resolution Russell offered "resolved by the Senate and House of Representatives that the General Assembly congratulates St. Peter Roman Catholic Parish in Rutland on its solar energy leadership."

Said Father Houle: "I am so proud, and honored, and so thankful to all who were instrumental in having all of this accomplished. I was very stunned and surprised to receive such a congratulatory resolution, never expecting, or thinking, that it would reach that level."

He will continue to advocate for reducing carbon footprints by following in the footsteps of the founder of his Franciscan community, St. Francis of Assisi, "who saw all of creation as a gift from God and became the patron saint of ecology as he attempted to show us just how inseparable the bond is between concern for nature, justice for the poor, commitment to society, and interior peace."

Father Houle encourages other parishes to investigate the possibility of using solar energy, especially when grants are available.

A recent month's parish electric bill would have been $201.28, for the rectory, but the earnings from solar totaled $273.18; the parish earned a credit of $71.90, "and we paid nothing for the rectory portion of this month's electric bill," he said. "We are seeing our rate of return, and savings already, as had been projected, in just one month's time!"

Article written by Cori Fugere Urban, Vermont Catholic staff writer.

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