Sisters of Notre Dame install a half-acre of solar panels
You might say the solar array at the School Sisters of Notre Dame was the result of foresight and divine inspiration.
“Earlier this month, the Vatican convened a meeting attended by executives from many of the largest global energy companies,” Caelie Haines, communications director for the congregation’s Atlantic-Midwest Province, said in a statement in June. “Pope Francis said that ‘switching to clean energy such as solar and wind power is a duty that we owe towards millions of our brothers and sisters around the world, poorer countries and generations yet to come.’
“Embracing solar energy exemplifies the sisters’ commitment to this goal, as does the deep-energy retrofit that was implemented by MHR Development starting in spring of 2016.”
That energy retrofit, which is expected to be fully operational by the end of this month, includes the largest ground-mounted solar panel array in Wilton. It takes up about half an acre on the sisters’ 38-acre campus on Belden Hill Road, according to Mark Robbins, founder and president of MHR Development of Norwalk.
It’s part of a multi-measure sustainability project that includes a number of energy-saving methods such as the installation of LED lighting, boiler replacement, and water conservation.
Jacob Poppel of All State Construction works on the new dual-fuel, modulating boilers installed at Villa Notre Dame. — Contributed photo
The sisters’ campus encompasses Villa Notre Dame, which includes 200 residential units, a dining facility, chapel, offices, gym, and commercial kitchen; the 40-bed Lourdes Healthcare Center, a Montessori School, and several houses.
The ground-mounted solar system will be complemented by a roof-mounted system on the Lourdes Healthcare Center. The 122 kW ground-mounted system and 37 kW rooftop system will generate about 200,000 kWh per year, about 25% of the campus’s electrical needs.
They will also generate about $20,600 a year in renewable energy credits and an average annual savings of more than $15,000 during the term of the power purchase agreement, according to MHR Development.
The setup will produce enough electricity to power about 21 single-family homes, Robbins said. A ground-mounted system was chosen for several reasons, he said. For one, the panels can be angled to catch the sun’s rays to best advantage. In the sisters’ case, their main building has a slate roof, and putting up a roof-mounted system could potentially crack the slate.
“Unless you have a flat roof where you create a mount of five degrees, it’s hard to get the perfect pitch,” Robbins said.
The retrofit includes replacing the old boilers, which dated from 1961, with modulating boilers that will save energy mainly during the summer. The old boilers were sized for the coldest day of the year, Robbins said. “It’s like using a 12-cylinder tractor trailer to pick up a gallon of milk,” he said, adding the sisters will see a reduction in oil consumption of almost 50%. The boilers can also be run on natural gas if the sisters decide to change over in the future.
Interior lights were changed, improvements were made in refrigeration and exhaust hoods in the commercial kitchen, and 14-foot airfoil fans were installed in the gym and the chapel. Rain barrels will help conserve water for irrigation, although most of the water conservation — 3,500 gallons a year — will come from the new boilers’ condensing system that will prevent steam from escaping.
Overall, the sisters should see $19,000 in operational savings annually and $141,240 in utility incentives, Robbins said. For their investment, Robbins estimated a five- to six-year payback for the congregation.
He said it was “exciting” to have a “broad scope to be able to address the environment from many angles.”
The School Sisters of Notre Dame describe themselves as “an international community of religious women. The sisters educate with a world vision, believing that the world can be changed through the transformation of persons. The sisters and their colleagues seek to empower women, youth and persons who are poor or marginalized and strive to change systems of poverty and injustice.”
Approximately 2,500 sisters minister in 32 countries.