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Local churches turn to solar power

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Students of St. Therese Catholic School helped raise money for a solar array. Here, from left, are pastor Vincent Chavez, principal Donna Illerbrun and alumnus Lou Apodoca. (Courtesy of New Mexico Interfaith Power and Light)

Students of St. Therese Catholic School helped raise money for a solar array. Here, from left, are pastor Vincent Chavez, principal Donna Illerbrun and alumnus Lou Apodoca. (Courtesy of New Mexico Interfaith Power and Light)

Students at St. Therese Catholic School on Fourth NW put their hope for saving the planet into raising money for a solar energy array on their roof.

Their efforts went live on Earth Day this past year.

Principal Donna Illerbrun says, “We teach them it’s their responsibility to be caretakers of creation. It’s pretty exciting to see our children making a difference for the future of other children. Our children are advocates for our planet.”

St. Therese is a small school of 169 students from preschool through eighth grade, so that meant raffles, golf tournaments and online fundraising to reach the goal of $112,000 to pay for the solar array. It took three years of saving, but the array creates 85 percent of all the energy required for the school, Illerbrun says.

Illerbrun will talk about the project at an educational workshop, “Caring for Creation through Conservation, Efficiency and Solar,” sponsored by the New Mexico Interfaith Power and Light at 7:30 p.m. Wednesday at St. Francis Episcopal Church in Rio Rancho.

Joan Brown, a Catholic Franciscan sister and executive director of the interfaith nonprofit for New Mexico, says solutions to conserve energy through sustainable sources like the sun and wind are practical and spiritual.

BROWN: “It’s the ethical and moral issue of our times.”

BROWN: “It’s the ethical and moral issue of our times.”

The nonprofit has branches in 40 states.

“It’s the ethical and moral issue of our times,” she says about climate change. “As members of faith communities, our responsibility is to be good stewards of the Earth. We have a responsibility to care for the Earth for future generations. Energy resources are gifts and we need to conserve them.”

Tom Stark, president of the New Mexico Interfaith Power and Light board, says connecting to renewable resources also makes financial sense for families and for congregations.

On a personal level, Stark took his 2,400-square-foot home solar a couple of years ago. After rebates, he says his cost was about $20,000, but he has not paid an energy utility bill since the system was installed and gets paid for the energy he generates beyond his use. “It’s nice to get a paycheck from PNM.”

It takes a lot of energy to heat and cool churches, synagogues and mosques in Albuquerque and around the country, he says.

Area congregations of all faiths have begun to rely on renewable energy including Stark’s congregation at the First Unitarian Church on Carlisle NE, which has a LEED certificate, he says.

Leadership in Energy and Environmental Design is a green building certification program that recognizes best-in-class building strategies and practices.

Stark and Brown say they hope that houses of worship can lead the way and become examples for individuals for ways of conserving energy and reducing pollution.

Don Conklin, an administrator at Our Lady of the Most Holy Rosary Parish in the South Valley, says parish members carefully considered their options before proceeding with a $200,000 solar array that will generate energy and savings, paying for itself in 10 years.

“We basically paid for it out of our savings,” he explains, adding that many parts of the church are more than 60 years old and a newer sanctuary is 22 years old. “Parents and grandparents saw this as an investment in the future for their kids.”

He says that they factored in their energy costs, about $28,000 annually, and their moral responsibility to the Earth and the environment. “What are our responsibilities of stewardship, to take care of the Earth?”

Conklin will also speak at the New Mexico Interfaith Power and Light workshop.

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