Evangelizing ‘green’: Our Lady of Guadalupe Parish adds solar panels

  • Written by Brian LeBlanc
  • Published in Local
New solar panel arrays stand tall in front of the multiuse Walmesley Center at Our Lady of Guadalupe Parish in West Seattle. Photo: Courtesy NW Wind & Solar New solar panel arrays stand tall in front of the multiuse Walmesley Center at Our Lady of Guadalupe Parish in West Seattle. Photo: Courtesy NW Wind & Solar

SEATTLE - On the city’s highest hill, solar panels are helping power a parish’s multiuse facility — saving money and potentially putting cash back in the bank.

It’s just one of many environmentally conscious initiatives in recent years at Our Lady of Guadalupe Parish in West Seattle, efforts that qualify it for an Energy Star certification from the Environmental Protection Agency.

“We’re trying to lead by example,” said Frank Handler, pastoral assistant for administration. As stewards of the environment, the parish community wants to show the benefits of thinking sustainably not only for its neighborhood, but also to “evangelize green within the archdiocese,” Handler said.

In September, two pole-mounted arrays of solar panels were installed at the Walmesley Center, a multiuse/gym building completed in 2012 and named after Father Jack Walmesley, the current pastor. The panels face south, “high enough and at a right angle to optimize the sun that we get,” Handler said. They are expected to provide enough energy to power most of the electrical needs of the center; any excess will be sold to Seattle City Light.

The $60,000 project included a $45,000 grant from the Bonneville Environmental Foundation’s Solar 4R Schools program, plus $15,000 contributed by the parish and school. The grant process took more than two years, but was “absolutely worth doing,” said parishioner Kathleen Sullivan, who prepared the application. She encourages other parishes and schools to consider applying.

As part of the grant, an interactive kiosk in the Walmesley Center will show how much power the panels are generating, and students at Our Lady of Guadalupe School will learn about solar energy as part of their science curriculum. It’s “all about educating kids and the public about the benefits of solar power,” Handler said.

Handler estimates the parish will pay off its investment in six years, based on anticipated energy-bill savings, the sale of any excess power and participation in a Washington state solar incentive program.

Environmental sustainability is at the center of the parish’s master plan. Although Father Walmesley was a driving force behind the plan, “the green initiative came from the parishioners,” he said. A variety of parish efforts are highlighted in an Energy Star brochure, from installing an energy-efficient boiler at the school, to reducing the use of plastic bottles and other disposable items on the parish campus.

Being “as environmentally friendly as possible” was the goal when building the Walmesley Center, Handler said. The parish’s next goal is gaining certification by the Leadership in Energy and Environmental Design green-building program, which considers the number of sustainable construction practices used. The Walmesley Center encompasses many green features — from the bamboo flooring in the stage area to the auto-dimming interior lighting and energy-efficient appliances.

The new solar panels are a large and visible conversation starter for the parish and its neighborhood. “It’s going to do exactly what it’s meant to do,” Sullivan said. “It gives people something to think about and that’ll be good for everybody.”

The original version of this story said that Our Lady of Guadalupe had earned an Energy Star certification. While the parish has qualified for the certification, it has not yet submitted the paperwork to receive it.