Student effort generates solar arrays

Mary Lang, president of Assumption High School, stood next to Assumption’s array of solar panels on the school’s roof. The panels will generate about two kilowatts of power. (Record Photos by Jessica Able)

Thanks to the tenacity and determination of a group of local teens, two more institutions in the Archdiocese of Louisville will harness the power of the sun in an effort to reduce energy consumption.

A small array of solar panels sits atop Assumption High School, 2170 Tyler Lane. And, a similar array is expected to be installed at Presentation Academy, 861 S. Fourth St., in the coming months.

Participants in an environmental youth group called OurEarthNow, affiliated with Kentucky Interfaith Power and Light, raised money to purchase the solar panels.

The environmental youth group was originally formed in 2010 by 10 young people from Assumption, Atherton High School, Bellarmine University, duPont Manual High School, Fern Creek High School, Presentation, St. Francis School, St. Xavier High School and Trinity High School.

Each year members have tackled projects related to the environment and hosted events to raise awareness, such as rallies, marches, music festivals and tree plantings. About 134 young people have participated in OurEarthNow since its inception.

Maria Nash, a 2018 Assumption graduate and former member of OurEarthNow,

was instrumental in bringing the solar panels to Assumption.

Nash, who was active in her school’s environmental concerns committee, said that through her education at Assumption and her involvement in OurEarthNow, she learned of problems the Earth is facing due to climate change.

At one particularly informative meeting, the group discussed the health and environmental impact of the coal industry in Kentucky, she said. This discussion set the group in motion.

“We brainstormed what we could do about the problem and one thing our group was interested in was figuring out how we could make our power sources more sustainable,” Nash said.

Students from Assumption, Presentation and St. Xavier devised a plan to bring solar panels to their respective schools and sought to pay for them through donations and matching gifts.

Through a partnership with a local vendor, Kentucky Interfaith Power and Light was able to offer the panels at a discounted rate of $5,000.

Last year, students from Assumption asked the Sisters of Mercy, who sponsor the school, for a matching gift of $2,500. Presentation students asked the Sisters of Charity of Nazareth, who sponsor Presentation, for the same amount. Both schools raised the remainder.

St. Xavier students ended up dividing what they raised to the girls’ schools. St. X students put their plans on hold  because the school has developed an energy-saving plan that might include solar panels, said Tim Darst, executive director of Kentucky Interfaith Power and Light.

Assumption’s new array contains eight solar panels and produces about two kilowatts of energy. A two kilowatt array supplies about 50 to 60 percent of energy needed for a typical home, said Darst.

While that’s “a drop in the bucket” compared to the amount of energy a building like Assumption consumes, Darst said, it’s a start.

Mary Lang, president of Assumption, said the school’s commitment to the environment echoes that of the Sisters of Mercy, who feel called  to care for creation.

“That’s something they are very passionate about and is instilled in all Mercy schools,” Lang said

And, it’s something Assumption teaches its students, too.

The school’s environmental action committee has led efforts to reduce energy consumption throughout the school. Students use real dishes rather than disposable ones in the cafeteria. Energy efficient lighting and automatic controls of the heating and ventilation systems have been put in place.  There is a dedicated school-wide recycling effort and a no-idling policy is enforced in the car pickup line.

The school’s Assumption Green building — part of the sports and education complex located at 4500 Champions Trace — serves as the center for Assumption’s environmental and sustainability program.

The building has a partial green-roof system, solar panels, dual flush toilets, a water permeable paving surface, a rain garden, motion-sensored lighting and a clay tile wall.

Lang noted that while the new array atop the academic building is small, the school plans to add to it in the coming years.

“We are very much focused on the environment here and are doing everything we can do to be more sustainable,” she said. “We have to care about what we are doing today if we want to have a world for our kids to live in tomorrow.”

Laura Dills, president of Presentation, said the downtown school is always looking for ways to be more environmentally friendly.

“As global citizens we look for ways to save energy, to save resources. By having solar panels it’s a win-win for all of us,” Dills said.

Presentation expects to have their panels installed in the coming months. They will be located atop the school’s Arts & Athletic Center, located catty-corner to the school at the corner of Fourth and Breckinridge streets.

Presentation also recently replaced about 1,800 light bulbs throughout its campus with LED lights and installed water bottle filling stations instead of the typical water fountains.

Assumption and Presentation join a list of seven other Catholic institutions in the commonwealth of Kentucky to have solar panels.

The Sisters of Charity of Nazareth in Nazareth, Ky.,  and the Archdiocese of Louisville Pastoral Center both have 30-kw arrays, the largest allowed under Kentucky law.

In addition, Sacred Heart Academy has a 6-kw array,  St. William Church has a 3-kw array and the Sisters of Loretto in Nerinx, Ky., have a 3.5-kw array.

The Catholic Action Center in Lexington has a 30-kw array and St. Elizabeth of Hungary Church in Ravenna, Ky., has a 7.5-kw array.

Nash, now a sophomore at St. Louis University, said she feels passionate about environmental causes because many across the globe, and even some in Louisville, are already feeling the effects of climate change.

“My hope for this project and the future of the (OurEarthNow) group is to both raise awareness about the reality of climate change, but to also do something about it and inspire others at the same time,” she said.

Darst of Kentucky Interfaith Power and Light said he’s inspired by the passion of the students.

“They have a bigger stake in this than I do. They are going to be impacted by this, their kids are going to be affected more than we are. It gives me hope that this generation is willing to make a difference,” said Darst who moderates the OurEarthNow group.

A 3-kw array sits on top of Assumption High School. Students raised money to fund the solar panels.

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