Posted in projects on November 1, 2016 1:43 pm EDT

Solar Array in Green Bay

An eye-opening look at installation ROI in a creation-minded Wisconsin convent. A Church Designer exclusive report.











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TAGS: design, efficient, energy, solar, sustainability,


By Ed Van Herik

When the Sisters of St. Francis of the Holy Cross unveiled their 112 kW solar power array to the community of Green Bay, Wis., last year, they had several goals in mind. First, they wanted to demonstrate their commitment to sustainability, and they also wanted to provide an operating, educational example of conservation. And, of course, they wanted to reduce their energy bill.

So, how has the system worked so far?

"We were told we would save 30% a year and, after a year, we had saved 29%. We also estimate that we saved $12,500, which is no small thing."

—Sister Rose Jochmann, Community Treasurer.

Sister Rose reports that they were surprised by the variation in the unit’s output from month to month. The first year, March was the banner month for the project, with January the worst. The system has been low-maintenance so far. “We had pouring rain this week, so they’re clean,” she says. And they found that snow falling on the panels was not the problem it could have been. “As soon as the sun comes out, the snow slides off and that’s it.”

The Meaning Behind the Move to Solar

Sister Rose emphasizes that savings was not the primary driver when they decided to install a photovoltaic system. “We wanted to witness for sustainability and show His care for all creation,” she says. “We wanted to reduce our carbon footprint.”

The Order felt a special call to become more deeply involved in conservation because of St. Francis’s devotion to all creatures. Bishop David Ricken gave the facility a blessing after a year of operation on June 18, 2015, the day that Pope Francis issued his environmental encyclical, Laudato Si, calling for a greater awareness of sustainability issues.

Blessing and dedication of the solar array at the Sisters of St. Francis of the Holy Cross, Green Bay, Wis.

Jesse Michalski, project manager for Eland Electric Corp. in Green Bay, designers and installers of the facility, says their motivation set the sisters apart from other solar system purchasers. “They are one of the few customers who truly approached it from a conservation and environmental standpoint.” Michalski notes that the Order had no use for one of the key cost-savers on solar arrays: A 30% tax credit: “For most customers, the decision is based on ROI and cost, cost, cost.”

The Making of a Solar Array System

The site was constructed using Cantsink ground anchors rather than concrete to lessen the impact to the Earth. The installation used 416 270w mono panels from Solar World with a Solectria 100 KW inverter. The modules take up the equivalent of 1.5 acres, former farmland in a cul-de-sac that was being unused by the sisters. “It was a typical installation;” says Michalski, “a fun project for my crew.”

The racking system was constructed using aluminum materials and stainless hardware, with three main extruded aluminum beams running east to west, which are anchored to structural supports. The total lineal feet of the beams is approximately 2,000 feet. When operating at peak sun for one hour, the array can supply 105 kWh, enough to power the average home for 5 days. In its first year, the system produced 151,000 kWh, enough to offset the impact of 13,000 gallons of gasoline.

As part of their commitment, the Sisters of St. Francis created a self-guided walking tour of the site, explaining how solar is generated, why it was chosen for the site, and its usefulness in a northern climate. Among those who visited was a delegation from the Congregation of the Sisters of St. Agnes in Fond du Lac, Wis. The Sisters of St. Agnes weren’t there to look; they were there to shop. They, too, wanted to decrease their carbon footprint, but for them, it was personal. “We have been on this piece of land for 155 years,” says Sister Susan Seeby. “It is important to us to live in harmony with the property.”  continued >>