The Catholic Charities Neighborhood Center on 18th Street in Wheeling is installing solar panels as part of the agency’s movement toward becoming more energy efficient, and in response to Pope Francis’ encyclical “Laudato Si” about caring for the environment.
The installation of a 17kW solar panel system is scheduled for the week of Dec. 5. This system is estimated to produce nearly 21,000 kWh of electricity in its first year alone.
“With utility costs continuing to increase annually, a growing portion of our budget was going toward covering these operational costs,” said Elizabeth Paulhus, director of program development and evaluation at Catholic Charities West Virginia (CCWVa). Paulhus was the northern regional director at CCWVa in 2015, and initiated the grant-funded solar project.
Paulhus connected with Dan Conant, the founder of Solar Holler, to develop the project for the Neighborhood Center.
“I saw this project as a means of reducing our utility costs, which in turn would free up funding to advance the services we provide to those most in need,” Paulhus said. “As the cost of electricity continues to rise, the cost savings from solar panels will increase as well.”
The solar panel system at the Neighborhood Center will produce approximately one quarter of the power currently used.
In addition to solar panels, Conant suggested replacing all lights in the Neighborhood Center with high-efficiency LED lights to reduce energy consumption further.
“We’re excited to be working with nonprofits because every dollar we can cut from your electricity bill can go into programs that work toward the mission of the group,” Conant said. “We love being able to help the community and faith organizations that do so much good throughout the state.”
Solar Holler has also partnered with Coalfield Development Corporation to launch the first solar job training program in the state. The Coalfield group is comprised of formerly unemployed young adults and laid-off coal miners.
The Coalfield crew members learn about the solar industry and gain experience through their work with Solar Holler. This group will be completing the solar panel installation at the Neighborhood Center.
“Not only are we investing in green infrastructure to make the Neighborhood Center more sustainable,” said Andrea Staron, current northern regional director at CCWVa, “but we are also investing in a crucial job training opportunity for our state.”