Energy Transition in the Franciscan Renewal Center

Paradise Valley, Arizona

The Franciscan Renewal Center (FRC) – affectionately known as “the Casa” – was founded in 1951 by the Order of Friars Minor, part of the worldwide Franciscan family.  The Casa works cooperatively with the Diocese of Phoenix, and sacraments are celebrated at the Conventual Church of Our Lady of the Angels on the FRC campus.  Today the Casa is a thriving Catholic community offering daily and Sunday Mass, retreats, gathering spaces for non-profit groups, licensed behavioral health counseling, and outreach and service ministries.

The Care for Creation (C4C) Ministry, established in 2014, supports the continuing sustainability efforts of the Casa.  Its first project was to conduct an energy audit of all the lodging and meeting rooms in the buildings on the 25-acre campus.  Numerous issues were discovered, including drafty doors, and inefficient refrigerators.  Once the problems were identified, work began. Community members helped install weatherstripping and door sweeps, and the job was completed on 52 doors in May 2015.  Nine of the most power-hungry refrigerators were replaced with Energy Star rated ones.  With no expense to the FRC, 1350 pounds of CO2 emissions were saved per year for each secured door, and the energy usage for the nine refrigerators dropped by 78%.  After seeing what could be accomplished with small changes and with support from the Casa community, the C4C Ministry decided to move on to bigger things – improving the FRC’s environmental stewardship with solar as a renewable energy alternative to the burning of fossil fuels.

The solar panels and building the new church to LEED standards are outward signs to our community, guests, and neighbors of our Franciscan commitment to environmental stewardship, inspiring others to join in taking action to care for our common home.

The first step was research and education. Care for Creation members met with an energy consultant; sought the advice of churches and synagogues in the area who had recently installed a solar array; and interviewed three solar companies recommended by other faith communities.  The decision was made to install solar in phases. The first phase, on a newly constructed lodging building that would also power three additional buildings, was completed in December 2015. Projections showed that over the next 25 years, CO2 emissions would be reduced by 1.8 million pounds.  Through February 2019, this energy savings was equivalent to planting 6,168 trees on the FRC campus!

The second phase of the solar initiative did not begin immediately.  A new church was being constructed on campus, and the focus of the community was directed to this project. The Casa’s Building Committee strove to construct the first church in Arizona to be LEED certified (Leadership in Energy and Environmental Design), meaning that the new church would save energy and resources while lowering operating costs and optimizing health by keeping out harmful chemicals. Once the church was completed, a Community Life Center (CLC) would be built – the perfect building for the next phase of the solar initiative.

The support of the entire Casa community was needed for this large undertaking.  A solar survey was distributed in May 2018 to determine the level of interest for this new project. Next, an education session was presented in February 2019, explaining how solar panels incorporate the lessons of Laudato Si’ as well as the ecological and financial advantages.  A Funding Initiative began after the February education session, and enough money was collected by June 2019 for 120 panels.  The solar panels were installed as part of the Community Life Center building process, and they cut the CLC’s energy usage to net zero while also reducing the Church billing by 18%.

Kathy LeMoine
C4C Ministry Member



Posted on

7 July 2020



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