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Immaculata addresses global problem

With Immaculata as the first high school in the Diocese of Metuchen to use solar as a renewable energy source, several benefits emerge, according to Msgr. Joseph G. Celano.
Posted on 10/05/2022

When Pope Francis released his second encyclical, “Laudato Si’: On Care for Our Common Home,” in 2015, he set into motion a conceptual blueprint as to how all of humanity might come together to respond to the global climate crisis, urgently issuing an appeal to begin a new dialogue about shaping the future of the planet. 

“One of the first questions Bishop [James F.] Checchio asked our diocesan offices upon his arrival to the Diocese of Metuchen, even before he was ordained and installed as bishop, was ‘How are we responding to the Holy Father’s call through Laudato Si’ to care for our earth?’” said Msgr. Joseph G. Celano, episcopal vicar of administration, pastor of Immaculate Conception Parish, Somerville, and director of its two schools, Immaculate Conception and Immaculata High, both in Somerville.

Recalling the bishop’s question from years ago, he said he is elated to now offer an answer to that question, both in his capacity as episcopal vicar and as pastor. 

With Immaculata as the first high school in the diocese to use solar as a renewable energy source, a project first initiated during the pastoral tenure of Msgr. Seamus F. Brennan, pastor emeritus of Immaculate Conception Parish, several benefits emerge, according to Msgr. Celano. 

“Even though the solar panels are not visible from ground level, they are in fact there and they will be supplying renewable energy,” he said of the 1,228 solar panels lining the roofs of the school’s two buildings, which are projected to produce 635,486 kWh at a rate of $0.083/kWh in the first year. “Our students will be very aware this is a step we are taking to be good caretakers of the environment, so it will be good for them to see our example, that we are leading the way when it comes to alternative energy sources.” 

In a year, the school’s solar panel arrays, which are financed, maintained, and owned by Madison Energy Investments, are estimated to offset the greenhouse gas emissions caused by 19,494 trash bags of waste in landfills and will be equivalent to carbon sequestered by 7,447 tree seedlings grown for 10 years. Using power optimization equipment, the solar panel project maximizes power output for each module on the roof during all weather conditions and adds additional levels of monitoring capability and safety to the system. 

Other benefits, the pastor said, include cost savings and alignment with Pope Francis. 

“It is important that we show a sense of solidarity with the Holy Father, especially through our care of creation, which aligns with his encyclical, ‘Laudato Si,’” said Msgr. Celano, who added the solar panels were providentially installed during the Season of Creation, which spans from Sept. 1, the World Day of Prayer for the Care of Creation, through Oct. 4, the feast of St. Francis of Assisi, for whose words the Holy Father’s encyclical was named. 

“For both the high school and the diocesan [St. John Neumann] Pastoral Center [Piscataway], and even in parishes and schools around the diocese, we recognized this would represent a significant amount of savings in energy cost over the next 10-15 years,” he said. 

In addition to the solar project at Immaculata High School and the Pastoral Center, home to the diocesan offices, and several other schools and parishes in the diocese — among them St. Matthias Parish, Somerset, and St. Thomas the Apostle Parish, Old Bridge — also began the conversion to renewable energy. 

Steve Michalek, director, diocesan Office of Properties and Facilities Management, who is overseeing the power purchase agreement solar project and several others at the pastoral center in an effort to use sustainable energy, said he sees the switch to solar as a “win-win-win.”

“We are aligned with Pope Francis, it’s environmentally friendly, and it’s fiscally responsible,” he said.

Coupled with other efforts underway, he said once the solar panels are installed, it is estimated the pastoral center could eliminate 80 percent of its electricity cost, which runs into the thousands each month.

“Over 25 years, we will likely save $3 million, so that’s the financial beauty of it,” he added. 

Environmentally conscious upgrades to the diocesan pastoral center made in recent months also include: a new white monochromatic roof to reflect the sunlight and defray heating and cooling costs; new higher SEER rooftop units to lower electricity needs and encourage energy efficiency; all new outdoor LED lighting; new energy-efficient indoor lighting; and new energy-efficient pumps for the heating system. 

“It’s been around long enough, it’s been proven to work, and we feel confident in this solution,” Michalek said.