The location of the second-largest solar installation in Beaver County may surprise you. It’s not on a university campus. It’s not on the roof of a big box store. It’s at the Our Lady of Hope Provincial House in North Sewickley Township, the headquarters for the Felician Sisters of North America. The Felician Sisters are a 1,000-woman strong religious order whose members span four continents.
The 365kW solar array, mounted both on their roof and on facility grounds, consists of more than 1,000 panels and was installed by Dovetail Solar and Wind in 2016. In 2018, this system produced over 37 megawatt-hours of electricity.
But this array is only part of their investment in photovoltaics; by September of 2017, the sisters had completed the installation of over two megawatts of solar across six sites in five different states. While many people go solar to save money, the Felician Sisters see solar energy as a moral choice, rooted in the Franciscan tradition of living in close relationship with nature. It is meant to not only reduce the sisters’ own impact on the environment, but to serve as a clear example of caring for the Earth.
The project may also yield a financial, as well as spiritual, return on investment. Like many tax-exempt organizations who go solar, the Felician Sisters opted for a power-purchase agreement (PPA). Rather than owning the system outright, a third party owns the system. The third party takes the 30% investment tax credit to help finance the project, and then sells the electricity at a set rate to the nuns. According to Sister Jean Sliwinski, the order’s sustainability coordinator, they expect to break even financially in 15 to 20 years, and may even see a net profit.
In keeping with her efforts to spread the clean energy gospel, Sister Jean will be speaking briefly at an upcoming info session for the Beaver-Butler Solar Co-op, to be held at 6pm on May 1st at the Slippery Rock University Sustainable Enterprise Accelerator.