Catholic University Proposes DC’s Largest Solar Panels


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By Tess Rempel

On Monday, October 18, 2021, The Catholic University of America filed a zoning application to create the largest solar array in the city.  This proposal makes it one of the first universities to sign onto the Vatican’s Laudato Si’ Action Platform.

According to the application, the ground-mounted structure will generate approximately 11 megawatt-hours (MWh) per year. Beyond constituting roughly 25% of the University’s annual energy consumption, it will also sell excess energy that is generated to the grid. 

The facility is set to cover twenty-five acres of the West Campus between North Capitol Street and Harewood Road NE.  This application is part of the campus-wide five-year sustainability plan, as initiated in 2020. 

Catholic University has been pursuing sustainability initiatives since 2002. In 2010, the University installed 1,100 solar panels, which was the largest solar installation in the D.C. Metro area. By August 2012, the University possessed 2,600 solar panels over seven different buildings and 70 parking spaces in the O’Boyle Hall parking lot. 

In 2015, Pope Francis published his second encyclical Laudato Si’, which “calls us toward sustainability in the spirit of integral ecology… with profound care for each other, our Creator, and all creation.” In October 2021, Creighton University published a study that examined approximately 12,000 columns written by U.S. Catholic bishops from June 2014 to June 2019. It was concluded that U.S. bishops have “diminished and distanced themselves from Church teaching” on the moral issue of climate change, and oppose parts of the Laudato Si’ document that conflict with American conservatism.

“Climate change is a deep concern for so many young people because it threatens every aspect of our future,” said Burke, one of the study’s authors. “As a young Catholic, I want leaders who understand these hopes and anxieties and are willing to faithfully embrace Church climate change teaching.”

On Sunday, November 14, 2021, following the conclusion of the twenty-sixth United Nations Climate Change Summit, the Pope urged leaders to “act now with courage and vision.” Catholic University’s sustainability plan is rooted in the Pope’s teaching, aiming to offer “a distinctive contribution to the entire nation… to address the national conversation on environmental stewardship within the context of the University’s Catholic mission and identity.” Such aims are upheld by a variety of sectors including Facilities, Residence Life, Dining Services, local partnerships, faculty, and students.

Students’ interest in climate change ranges from organizations and initiatives like the American Conservation Coalition, Environmental Club, SGA Environmental Executive Initiative, CUAdventures to the Environmental Law Society. These organizations host speakers to educate students about climate change, trips, cultivate a community garden, and volunteer at the Franciscan Monastery Gardens.
The hearing date for the proposal is set for January 6th, 2022, and a University-wide climate change conference is scheduled for April 2022. Although Catholic University ranks twenty-first in the nation as a Green College, there is much work to be done in the next few years, including a 20% reduction in carbon, two buildings to be certified LEED Gold, 20% reduction in energy, and the implementation of a student green fund.

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