Diocese of Monterey acts as leaven to shift 3 whole counties to clean energy in California

February 9, 2017

On 6 February 2017 the Diocese of Monterey provided the following update to GCCM and also the relevant Vatican dicasteries.  This piece has been adapted here for the information to be presented in more bullets and with a conclusion that describes the relation and potential application to other dioceses.

The Diocese of Monterey is currently involved in two projects to reduce the use of fossil fuels:  Green Diocese and Monterey Bay Community Power.

  • Through the Green Diocese program, we are working to reduce our own carbon footprint by reducing our energy consumption and meeting our energy needs with solar power wherever possible.  We hope to be a model for the community.
  • We are also advocating with local governments to establish Monterey Bay Community Power, a non-profit, community-owned electric power utility that will use renewable energy (solar and wind power) to provide a large part of the entire community’s needs.

In addition, we are using programs like Blue Theology to teach youth about ecology and our call to protect God’s creation.

Background

Stewards of Creation and an Example to the People

In Laudato Si, Pope Francis calls to us all in a loud voice for change.  He says,

Many things have to change, but it is we human beings above all who need to change.  We lack an awareness of our common origin, of our mutual belonging, and of a future to be shared with everyone.  This basic awareness would enable the development of new convictions, attitudes and forms of life.  A great cultural, spiritual and educational challenge stands before us, and it will demand that we set out on the long path of renewal.”  (LS, 202)

The Diocese of Monterey has taken the Holy Father’s message into its heart, and is seeking to be a model for the entire community.  In our parishes and in our schools, we are teaching about the importance of the environment and our obligation as God’s stewards to care for our “common home”.  We are putting our words into action by examining our own carbon footprint and taking strides to reduce our impact on our environment, both immediately and in the long term.

The Diocese of Monterey

Under the leadership of Bishop Richard Garcia, the Roman Catholic Diocese of Monterey in California serves approximately 200,000 Catholics in Santa Cruz, San Benito, Monterey, and San Luis Obispo Counties in California.  Together, these four counties include 9384 mi2 (24,304 km2) and a total population of about 1,032,300.  The diocese has 46 parishes and 18 schools, as well as various other pastoral facilities.

Green Diocese Program

The diocese and our parishes have been examining ways to conserve energy and reduce our electricity costs for several years.  Early efforts, however, were not coordinated by the diocese and were very inconsistent between parishes.  When Pope Francis published Laudato Si in May of 2015, the diocese began looking in earnest for ways to reduce its negative impact on the environment.  This was the beginning of the Green Diocese project.

In May of 2016, the diocese began a partnership with Green Power, a subsidiary of the Romero Institute, a faith-based non-profit law and advocacy center (see Attachment 1 – GreenPower formed after Laudato Si’ was published).  This partnership has been vital to our efforts.

In June of 2016, Bishop Garcia sent a letter to the clergy of the diocese, urging them to welcome Green Power into their parishes and give them a forum to speak to parishioners (see Attachment 2.)  Green Power has made presentations at four regional meetings of parish business managers, visited individual parishes, helped conduct energy assessments, and coordinated work with solar contractors.  They have been an essential partner in all our efforts.

Green Diocese has the following parts:

  • The first step is to increase energy efficiency and reduce our need for electricity by: 
    • installing LED lighting. Simply converting to LED lighting is projected to reduce each parish’s and school’s carbon footprint by 40-50%.  
    • replacing inefficient electrical equipment with more modern systems
    • installing double-paned windows
    • adding insulation
    • sealing cracks around doors and windows, and
    • other simple improvements to our properties.  Each property (parish, school, or other property) has different needs, and not all need to do everything mentioned above.
    • Each property is conducting a separate evaluation of its needs with the help of Green PowerMore than half our properties have now finished their assessments, and many are now making improvements. 
  • The second part of Green Diocese is to convert to solar energy to provide the power that we need.  This will reduce (and, for some parishes, eliminate) our use of non-renewable energy.  There is also a possibility of providing electricity back to the utility company, helping reduce costs for all consumers.  We are even exploring whether we might be able to legally provide excess power directly to poor communities and other vulnerable areas.  More than a dozen have completed solar energy assessments.
  • Many parishes have established Green Teams to lead the effort to reduce their own carbon footprints.  These teams include clergy, staff and parishioners working together to examine their energy use and seek ways to address it.  For example, the Green Team at Carmel Mission Basilica walked throughout the property looking at specific improvements they could make.  The parish replaced inefficient water pumps, saving both electricity and water; sealed adobe walls to retain heat; and made sure energy efficiency was a major consideration during recent remodeling jobs.   Green Teams also get the whole parish involved in the program and urge parishioners to apply the lessons they learn to their homes as well.
Savings Thus Far

The diocesan pastoral center is currently in the process of upgrading its buildings, and expects to reduce its energy usage from 100,000 kilowatts per year to less than 7000 kilowatts.  This reduction alone will save the diocese about $20,000 per year in our electricity bill.  After accounting for inflation, we estimate that we will save approximately $680,000 over the next 25 years in the pastoral center alone.  So far, two parishes in the diocese have converted to solar; these relatively small parishes expect to save over $4000 apiece per year, and over $120,000 each in 25 years.  Larger parishes with parochial schools and other big buildings will see much greater savings.  Money saved on electricity becomes available for ministry programs, which will strengthen our outreach to the community.

Upfront Costs and Zero-Interest Loans to Parishes that Need, from Diocesan Bank

Many of these improvements, especially converting to solar power, have large costs.  To help parishes and schools pay high initial costs, the Diocesan Bank is offering zero-interest loans to parishes that need them.  We are also encouraging our parishes and schools to do some fundraising in the community; we are confident that many of our parishioners would help support this kind of project.

Caring for the Community and Our Common Home by Taking a Wider Approach:  Monterey Bay Community Power

Catholics and the diocese are going beyond an individual building or individual parish approach to answer the call to address our wider situation.  Through the partnership with the Romero Institute and Green Power, the diocese has been advocating for a rapid shift to renewables through (the initiation of) Monterey Bay Community Power (MBCP).  This program would double the amount of renewable energy used in three counties within the diocese in the first year alone.  The profits from this community power entity will be invested in new renewable energy sources (solar fields and wind farms) to be built in the local area, so that after 10 years, 85% of our energy could come from renewable sources.  This new construction has the added benefit of creating jobs within the diocese.

Bishop’s Letter to Pastors Supporting Community-Wide Renewable Energy Shift

Bishop Garcia sent a second letter to his parish pastors in August, expressing his support for MBCP and asking the priests to join him in advocating for it.

Parish Level Informational Meetings, Q&A, and Signature Collection

Green Power has visited 14 parishes and spoken to over 25,000 Catholics to introduce MBCP and answer questions.  They have also collected over 5000 signatures from parishioners on a letter of support for MBCP, which they have presented to local government officials.

Meetings with City and County Officials to Give the Church’s Viewpoint and Support Shift to Community Renewable Energy

Green Power and the diocesan Social Justice Director have met with city and county officials to give them the Church’s viewpoint and urge them to support the program.  We have also received very positive coverage in the local and national media (Attachments 6 and 7).  As a result of these efforts, at least 19 of the 21 local governments are expected to join MBCP when they make their final votes in February 2017Only three governments are necessary to start MBCP, so 19 is a very strong show of support and indicates how successful our partnership has been.

Blue Theology and Other Educational Programs

The diocese partners with other local churches and the Monterey Bay Aquarium to teach children about ocean ecology.  The program uses a faith-based approach to explain our relationship with nature and our responsibility to care for God’s creation.  The diocese gives priority to the children of migrant farmworkers, who may not otherwise have the opportunity to experience the ocean and beach environments.  In 2016, 83 migrant children and 31 adults participated in Blue Theology.

Respect and love for God’s beautiful creation are also integral parts of our faith formation programs.  Children preparing for First Eucharist or Confirmation attend retreats among the forests or on the shore to appreciate the vastness of nature and our place in God’s plan.  Some parishes sponsor pilgrim walks through nature areas, while others host cleanup events to remove some of man’s harmful footprints on the world.

The diocese also works with other community groups to conduct area cleanups and community events to raise awareness of ecological issues.

Conclusion

The Diocese of Monterey is taking important steps to act on Pope Francis’ call to protect our common home.  Our Green Diocese and MBCP projects will reduce our carbon footprint and help care for our common home.

We also act as good stewards:  by reducing our energy bills, we save money that can be used toward ministry in our parishes and schools.  If all 64 parishes and schools join this program, the diocese as a whole could save more than $10 million over the next 25 years.

Finally, we are modelling good behavior for our parishioners and school families as they see us respond to the Holy Father’s appeal.  Much of this would not be possible without Green Power and our other partners.  Our lay partners, Catholics on the ground, have provided manpower and expertise in all aspects of our programs, which the diocese could not have afforded from a for-profit business, but we think this program is highly replicable, now that the components have been developed.

Even where local governments do not have a community power “opt-in” (here called Community Choice Aggregation or Community Choice Energy, available in seven US states), local governments tend to have “franchise agreements” or contracts with utilities and negotiate terms, which can include a shift (and the pace of such a shift) to more life-giving forms, such as renewable energy.

Further info on Community Choice Aggregation

Community choice aggregation (CCA) is a state policy that enables local governments to aggregate electricity demand within their jurisdictions in order to procure alternative energy supplies while maintaining the existing electricity provider for transmission and distribution services. Many states passed CCA laws as part of electric restructuring legislation in the late 1990s and early 2000s. States that have passed CCA laws include California (2002), Illinois (2009), Massachusetts (1997), New Jersey (2003), Ohio (1999), and Rhode Island (1997). There are many reasons that a community may choose to develop a CCA, including the option to purchase more green power, reduce electricity cost, and provide power from more local sources. For 2013, approximately 2.4 million customers participating in CCAs that source renewable energy, totaling more than 9 million MWh of renewable energy.

CCAs that are currently providing a green power product include:

Location Program Name Renewable Offer Start Date Premium
Communities in Illinois Municipal Aggregation (Click on the community name to see supply options; not all communities offer green power) Typically 100% green power option 2010-2014 varies
Sonoma County, CA Sonoma Clean Power 33% or 100% green power 2014 33% product has 4-5% savings; 100% product is 3.5¢/kWh premium over 33% product
Lowell, MA Community Choice Power Supply Program 100% green power 2014 8-10% savings
Cleveland, OH Municipal Aggregation Program 100% green power 2013 21% savings
Lancaster, MA Municipal Aggregation Program Local PV incorporated into product mix 2013 ~10% savings
Marin County, CA Marin Energy 50% or 100% green power 2010 100% is 1¢/kWh extra

Most CCAs are “opt-out” entities, meaning that the customer is by default part of the aggregation unless the customer opts-out. This opt-out arrangement has given community aggregation entities much higher participation rates than utility green power programs. The lowest participation rate for opt-out programs that offer a renewable energy component is around 75%20 compared to the highest participation rates in the low twenties for the most successful opt-in utility green power programs.

Other communities have initiated CCAs that do not include green power options: