PROSPECT HEIGHTS — Bishop Nicholas DiMarzio cut the ceremonial ribbon June 10 for a solar-energy project launched to answer Pope Francis’ “urgent challenge” to battle climate change and “protect our common home.”
The Bishop Thomas V. Daily Residence on Dean Street in Prospect Heights — owned by the Catholic Charities of Brooklyn and Queens (CCBQ) — is the first building to get solar panels and was the site of the ceremony.
The Holy Father’s environmental concerns, including climate change, are set out in “Laudato Si’ ” — his 2015 encyclical and second such letter as pope.
In response, CCBQ formed Laudato Si Corporation, a green-energy initiative to generate renewable energy with arrays of solar photovoltaic panels mounted on the rooftops of residential buildings across the diocese. The buildings are managed by Catholic Charities Progress of Peoples Development Corporation — CCBQ’s affordable housing developer.
Before he cut the ribbon on June 10, Bishop DiMarzio recounted how the pope’s encyclical inspired the diocese to accelerate plans for sustainable energy capabilities on CCBQ’s residential buildings. Subsequently, the bishop in 2018 led an ecumenical delegation to the Vatican to present plans for Laudato Si Corporation to Pope Francis.
“He gave us great encouragement,” Bishop DiMarzio told the audience. “We had Buddhist members and Catholic members, and so it was a great day. Now we see the fruits of that work.”
Pope Francis wrote in “Laudato Si’ “ that “the urgent challenge to protect our common home includes a concern to bring the whole human family together to seek a sustainable and integral development, for we know that things can change.”
Bishop DiMarzio added, “We’re trying to make ourselves part and parcel of God’s creation, using all the things that God has given us, especially the sun, which produces so much energy.”
CCBQ is one of the largest faith-based providers of affordable housing in the U.S. It currently has 4,330 units of affordable homes in 44 buildings, with 240 more units under construction.
Three other residential buildings are expected to receive similar solar panel installations by the end of this summer: Our Lady of Fatima Senior Housing in Jackson Heights; Peter J. Striano Senior Residence/ Howard Beach Apartments, Howard Beach; and Bishop Joseph Sullivan Residence in Bedford-Stuyvesant.
Tim McManus, senior vice president of Catholic Charities Progress of Peoples Development Corporation (POP), said the first four buildings are considered a “pilot project.”
“And,” he added, “we certainly have a number of buildings that we’ve lined up to do a Phase 2.”
McManus noted, however, that some buildings managed by POP aren’t suitable to “support the investment.”
“Not all of our buildings have a large enough rooftop,” he explained. “So, we plan to do as much as possible where it makes financial sense.”
But McManus noted that the solar panels are expected to pay for themselves as the electricity they produce gets “pumped back in the grid.”
“The other unique thing about this approach is with the panels, we will be selling energy back to Con Ed and Con Ed will be paying us for the energy we’re providing,” he said. “And we will be using the revenue generated through this to reinvest in those other buildings, where traditionally, you would have to go get a loan.”
McManus also described how Laudato Si Corporation will participate in an Inclusive Community Solar Agreement, which will sell solar power to “subscribers” who prefer to get their electric utilities from local, renewable sources. Proceeds from these sales would help fund other initiatives of the corporation, he explained.
The law firm Nixon Peabody provided pro bono legal advice to form the new corporation. Bright Power, an energy and water management partner, is designing and installing solar arrays. Other assistance came from the Advanced Energy Research & Technology Center (AERTC) of Stony Brook University, Enterprise Community Partners, and the New York State Energy Research and Development Authority.
Bishop DiMarzio thanked all of them in his remarks. He concluded by saying Pope Francis’ call for action on climate change is appropriately urgent, adding that damage to the environment is not easily repaired.
“We cannot abuse creation,” the bishop said. “Pope Francis has said, God forgives all the time, people forgive some of the time, but nature never forgives. So we cannot destroy the nature that God has given to us.
“That’s why we take seriously our responsibility to preserve nature as God has given it to us. That’s why the Holy Father is taking this stand,” Bishop DiMarzio said.
“It’s not just an economic issue, but an issue for the whole world, and for everybody’s benefit, especially the poor people who seem to get the brunt of every ecological disaster,” the bishop concluded. “It is the people who are the poorest that really suffer the most.”