In 2015, a Franciscan Parish of Immaculate Conception in Durham, North Carolina, became certified as a Green parish by GreenFaith, a global, multi-faith climate and the environmental movement https://greenfaith.org/. Since then, the parish had continued to build on its foundation of environmental education, advocacy and stewardship through an annual Earth Day Fair, a celebration of the Season of Creation and a weeklong celebration of the Feast of St. Francis the first week of October.
The parish also has made good strides in “greening” its campus. Over the last two years, all lighting in the parish, school, office building, and 6 trailers has been changed over to LEDs at a cost of about $25,000 after rebates and a large amount of the work being done by volunteers. The church now is seeing a saving in power bills of about $1,000 a month. The changeover included replacing large spotlights in the sanctuary that used nearly 10,000 watts with LED arrays that now use about 300 watts each. Also, as a result of the reduction in heat produced by these bulbs, AC usage also is down.
At the same time the lighting was being addressed, the parish Green Team was exploring ways to add solar panels to some of the parish roofs to further decrease our carbon footprint. Many proposals were considered, roofs inspected, and attempts made to apply for Duke Energy rebates that would make the project financially feasible. Unfortunately, Duke Energy changed application procedures several times, which delayed our application long enough that a grant source expired. Since then, parish offertory has dropped substantially due to the discontinuation of in-person Mass, so the solar project is at a standstill until parish finances stabilize.
Fortunately, before the COVID-19 crisis brought many planned facilities projects to a halt (new roof, new sound system), the parish completed the installation of a new boiler in March. The existing boiler was over 40 years old. It predated the building of the new church, but still was serving both the old space (now turned into a large gathering space going into the church) and the new church. The parish facilities manager had an engineer check the heating and cooling loads for the two spaces. In the construction process, many windows were removed, and insulation was added to the old space. The calculated size of the new boiler was only about a third of the old one. The old one had no efficiency rating, but likely was only 70% efficient at best, and since it was oversized, it ran in short bursts and then turned off quickly, which wasted even more of the heat. A new boiler with a 93-95% efficiency rating and which also could be directly vented, was selected, saving the cost to inspect and repair the current chimney. The new boiler should save about 25-30% over the old one, and about 10% over the cheapest one available. No data is available yet on savings.
While the solar panels are on hold, the parish Green Team now is exploring a plan to partner with Trees Durham, a local non-profit, to plant at least 100 trees on the church property and throughout areas in the city lacking a good tree canopy, areas which happen to coincide with areas that were redlined in the 50s and 60s. The health benefits of trees are well-known and at the same time, take carbon out of the air. They are one of the best ways to mitigate our carbon footprint and keep our efforts moving forward.
Maryann B. Crea
Minister for Justice, Peace and Integrity of Creation
Immaculate Conception Catholic Church