Catholic organizations are installing 5,000 solar panels in a five-acre space in Washington, D.C., in what will become the largest ground array of solar panels in the city.

The project is being led by Catholic Energies, which is a nonprofit organization that is part of the Catholic Climate Covenant. Catholic Energies is working with Catholic Charities of the Archdiocese of Washington to design and create the solar panel field. Catholic Charities of the Archdiocese of Washington owns the field, which is next to a retirement home and convent.

“Catholic Energies was born as a way of providing the time, the expertise, and probably more importantly, the resources,” for creating renewable energy projects in Catholic-owned-and-operated buildings, Page Gravely, the executive vice president for client services at Catholic Energies, told CNA.

These resources are primarily financial, as energy efficiency projects are typically expensive. Catholic Energies will team up with renewable energy companies, who act as investors and work with contractors to make the projects come to life. In return, the investors receive a federal tax credit, and other financial incentives. In this project, Catholic Charities of the Archdiocese of Washington will not pay anything for the solar panels.

In this project, IGS Solar is the investing company. Washington, D.C., has the highest solar tax credit in the country.

Gravely explained that Catholic Energies’ COO Dan Last kept being asked, “How do we actually put into action... Laudato Si? What can we do here at a parish or at a church?”

Initially, the group worked with LED retrofitting. LED lights are more energy-efficient than traditional incandescent light bulbs. The company shifted focus to solar after receiving numerous inquiries from potential clients about solar panels.

“I think really from the standpoint that there was familiarity with it,” said Gravely. “Folks that both could use it at home, or they just knew about solar and you know the growth in the solar market has been well-publicized, but also it was a larger impact,” he said.

Compared to an LED retrofit, solar panels are also far more visible and tangible.

“So we pivoted,” he said. The field in D.C. is Catholic Energies’ second project in the area. In June, they coordinated the installation of 440 solar panels at Immaculate Conception Church in Hampton, VA. The panels will account for the entirety of the parish’s energy usage.

The project in Washington received some concerns and pushback from those who live near the site, who were concerned about the environmental impact of the panel installation.

Gravely told CNA that these concerns were considered, and there will be 100 trees planted in the field to create a screening effect for the panels, as well as to help beautify the area. Additionally, there will be flowers planted to help rebuild the bee, bird, and butterfly populations. Catholic Energies worked with the city to ensure that stormwater runoff would not be impacted.

“There’s still gonna always be a handful of the neighbors not happy with it, but we can only do so much. And we've done a lot,” said Gravely.

The panels are scheduled to be operating by March of 2020. The energy produced by the solar panels will be returned to the D.C. power grid, and the energy credits will be enough to cover the energy cost of 12 buildings owned by Catholic Charities of the Archdiocese of Washington.