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The sun comes to school
Catholic schools install solar panels to lower costs and teach the benefits of going green

Students, administrators and staff at Catholic schools across the region are warming to their shiny new rooftops.

Crews already have installed solar panels at elementary schools in Buffalo, Niagara Falls, Amherst, Hamburg, Lancaster and Lockport, and the Catholic Diocese of Buffalo hopes to have 43 solar projects installed during the next several years.

A state authority, a private company and the diocese have teamed up on the project.

"This isn't someday in the future, or someplace down south or some rich company. This is us," said Viki Ingersoll, energy manager for the diocese.

The new solar energy projects are being implemented with dual goals in mind, Ingersoll said. In addition to lowering energy costs, students will learn firsthand about the environmental benefits of solar power.

The effort is being funded through a grant from the New York State Energy Research and Development Authority and a donation from Solar Liberty Energy Systems of Williamsville.

When all school projects are completed, they will produce about one and a half megawatts of solar electricity, enough to power 186 homes.

The latest panels were installed last week at Catholic Academy of Niagara Falls, the former Prince of Peace School.

Panels at the school have the capacity to generate 49,000 watts of electricity. Once up and running, they will save the school an estimated $5,000 to $7,000 a year in energy costs. That's equivalent to about 22 percent of the school's annual electric costs, said Solar Liberty marketing manager Jim Walters.

Over 25 years, the solar panels will reduce the amount of carbon dioxide emissions by about 849 tons, Walters said. They also will save about $322,000 in electrical costs over their warrantied lifetime, the company predicts.

The system at the Catholic Academy, which took four days to install but has not yet been hooked up to the power grid, also will allow the school to benefit from all the electricity they produce, even if they don't use it right away.

The electric meters run backwards, generating a credit, when power is sent out to the grid. When the school starts to draw power, the meter moves forward again, Ingersoll said.

"The school is a working model for homeowners and businesses in the community," Adam Rizzo, president of Solar Liberty, said in a written statement. "It's important to demonstrate that solar energy is a viable way to power a building, while reducing its environmental impact."

Six solar projects were installed last year at parishes across the Buffalo Diocese and are now generating electricity: St. Andrew, Town of Tonawanda; St. Gregory the Great, Amherst; Our Lady of Pompeii, Lancaster; St. Mary of the Lake, Hamburg; Notre Dame Academy, Buffalo; and Immaculate Conception, East Aurora.

Several other projects have also been installed this year, including at DeSales Catholic School, Lockport; St. Christopher, Town of Tonawanda; Our Lady of the Blessed Sacrament, Depew; Queen of Heaven, West Seneca; and Nativity of the Blessed Virgin Mary, Williamsville.

Our Lady of Mount Carmel School in Niagara Falls also has been approved for a solar project.

The local effort to increase solar-generating capacity mirrors a statewide initiative. The New York Power Authority is in the process of developing 100 megawatts of solar electricity capacity at public buildings statewide, under an initiative announced in January.

e-mail: abesecker@buffnews.com

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