By Randy Patrick
The Kentucky Standard
The convent four miles north of Bardstown on Louisville Road has installed 132 solar panels on the flat roof of Carrico Hall, an assisted living residence behind the church.The panels provide about 42,900 kilowatts of power to light and heat the residence hall, part of the motherhouse, a guest house, Nativity Hall, the water plant and a mechanics shop.

Mike Schneider, the community’s maintenance director, said he thinks it’s the largest solar project of its kind in or around Nelson County. It went live last Friday.

“In our effort to be sustainable, we wanted to reduce our carbon footprint, and one big way of doing that is to look at alternative energy,” said Sister Theresa Knabel, who was the first to begin pushing the idea and has worked as a consultant on the project.

Knabel, who helped oversee the construction of Carrico Hall in the mid-1990s and, at the same time, the renovation of the motherhouse and O’Connell Hall to make them more energy-efficient, wanted to install solar panels back then, but hardly any companies in Kentucky were doing such work. That made it hard to get contractors, architects and engineers who were capable of doing the work. Also, it was cost-prohibitive then.

“But I was sure it was possible, so that’s been my dream for 20 years to get this moving, and now it’s much more available and a little more affordable,” she said.

Sister Mary Elizabeth Miller, head of campus services, who oversees the buildings, and Schneider led the project, working with a New Albany, Ind., company, Sun-Wind Power.

The panels are all “made in the U.S.A., and that’s truly important,” Knabel said.

The sisters began working with another contractor, but its materials were manufactured in China, and Miller wanted to support an American company.

The organizers of the project won’t say how much it costs, but Miller said it represents “a significant investment.”

Schneider said the main source of energy for the campus will still be electricity purchased from Salt River Electric Cooperative, but the solar panels should substantially cut the amount purchased and lower the convent’s monthly bill.

“We probably won’t have a bill of credit with Salt River, simply because of the power consumption” on those buildings, he said.

The solar panels are only the latest and most noteworthy energy-efficiency project at SCN. The convent is converting to low-flush toilets and low-energy LED lighting, and a little retreat cottage in the woods is geothermal.

It recently replaced four conventional hot water heaters with on-demand heaters.

“When the water starts to flow … the heaters will ignite and start producing hot water,” Schneider said.

The sisters believe that caring for the earth is an integral part of their mission.

A 2014 mission statement regarding its lands and buildings says: “We reverence the sacredness and interconnectedness of all creation and commit ourselves to a sustainable relationship with the earth.”

Sisters of Charity of Nazareth is part of the Sustainable Land Roundtable, along with the Sisters of Loretto in Marion County, the Dominican Sisters of Peace in Washington County, the Kentucky Land Trust Bernheim Forest and Arboretum, and other groups.

Miller said she and others are working with Bernheim Forest to remove invasive species, such as honeysuckle and burning bush, from the forest at Nazareth, and with Peterson Farms to improve the soil in its fields by raising only two crops a year — corn and wheat, and a cover crop, such as radishes or rye — to replenish the nutrients in the earth.

On Feb. 3, the sisters’ mission committee hosted a luncheon on “Care of Our Common Home” with Tim Darst, director of Kentucky Interfaith Power and Light, as the presenter. The discussion on care for the earth, conservation and sustainability included a talk about the solar project.

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