Covered parking at Blessed Sacrament in Scottsdale (pictured) and Sacred Heart in Prescott doubles as solar panels used to power the parishes. (Ambria Hammel/CATHOLIC SUN)
Covered parking at Blessed Sacrament in Scottsdale (pictured) and Sacred Heart in Prescott doubles as solar panels used to power the parishes. (Ambria Hammel/CATHOLIC SUN)

Two parishes in the Diocese of Phoenix are leading the way in stewardship efforts when it comes to harnessing Arizona’s abundant natural resource: the sunshine.

Their efforts also have them on track to outpace the Vatican in its reliance on renewable energy.

Blessed Sacrament Parish in Scottsdale plus Prescott’s Sacred Heart Parish and School expect to largely go off the power grid next year, at least during the daytime. They’ll draw energy instead from their own array of solar panels.

The 990 solar panels atop a newly constructed covered parking area in the south lot of Blessed Sacrament could produce a conservative 85 percent of the parish’s electricity for the property’s five buildings. Sacred Heart’s 622 panels — split among a rooftop and parking structure — should offset 98 percent of the power used at the school and 58 percent for the parish.

If projected usage estimates prove accurate, the parishes would be Church leaders. The Vatican is eyeing 2020 — the target date also set by the European Union for its members — as a deadline to draw at least 20 percent of its power source from renewable energy.

Both parishes were among the last clients to qualify for an incentive program through Arizona Public Service. Leaders project a similar cost savings — some $35,000 to $40,000 a year — by going solar.

Fr. Pat Robinson, pastor of Blessed Sacrament, said it would be foolish not to take advantage of the incentive program. The project also fit right in with the parish’s “Renew, Repair, Refresh” campaign that increased church seating by 35 percent, brought buildings up to code, provided sufficient office space and, once complete, will add a perpetual eucharistic adoration chapel.

Nearby Advanced Energy Systems installed the panels at Blessed Sacrament earlier this year and created 100 covered parking spaces. The panels should be online in the next 60 days.

“They’ve been happy with the covered parking and they’re thrilled with the solar,” said Marianne Canning, parish manager.

The effort led to referrals and now several parishioners went solar at home too. Paul Melnik, a parishioner at both Blessed Sacrament and nearby St. Joseph, installed the parish’s panels. His 5-year-old company has had interest from a Presbyterian church and a synagogue too.

With financing, Melnik said most churches pay nothing out of pocket and see payments lower than their current electric bill.

Sacred Heart Parish saw enough cost savings since their solar panels went online in September — traditionally the least productive month for solar energy — and through other eco-friendly measures that the budget allowed for a full-time deacon. His role is crucial in visiting the homebound and launching a young adult ministry.

“It’s not the money that you have, it’s the way you’re spending it that makes the difference,” said Gene Murphy, parish business manager. He noted a church in Nigeria where parishioners supported a water tower last year. The Claretian-missionary-run church has a solar panel on top of that water tower.

Chandler-based Sun Valley Solar Solutions installed the panels at Sacred Heart. The parish has already saved nearly 30 tons of carbon dioxide emissions and enough energy to charge more than six million smartphones.

Murphy promoted ways communities can decrease their environmental impact at a recent interfaith meeting. Some are moving forward in researching their solar options.

“It’s an initial investment, but I wouldn’t get those returns from any bank I put my money in,” Murphy said.

Sacred Heart and Blessed Sacrament may be among the first to significantly reduce their carbon footprint on such a large scale, but other local Catholic organizations have taken steps to go solar in recent years. The Society of St. Vincent de Paul installed solar lighting in its warehouse in 2010.

André House began using a solar hot water in its hospitality center, transitional houses and staff house in 2011. The transitional homes also use solar panels for their electricity needs.