HOCKESSIN – St. Mary of the Assumption Parish has gone a little green – and is saving a lot of green – thanks to an early Christmas gift from two parishioners who are in the energy business.
The Hockessin church is already seeing the benefits from a solar energy system that now provides some of its electric power. The system, materials and labor, was a gift from Bruce and Linda Wanex, who own Wanex Electrical Services. Bruce Wanex said he was looking for a way to give back to his community and to keep his employees busy as the workload slowed.
The addition of solar panels to St. Mary of the Assumption’s campus went from proposal to completion in less than two months. Wanex, who lives in Hockessin, showed up one day at the parish office about two months ago and asked to speak to Father Charles Dillingham, the pastor, who didn’t know what to expect.
“As a pastor, you never really know what that talk’s going to be,” he said.
“He had a very simple message for me, very simple. He and his wife had had a very good year for their business and wanted to give back and decided to give back to their church.”
It didn’t take much convincing for Father Dillingham and others at St. Mary of the Assumption to accept the Wanexes’ gift. In fact, a member of the parish finance council had suggested several months ago that St. Mary’s look into the possibility of solar energy.
“And so, the Holy Spirit sent us this,” Father Dillingham said. “We didn’t have to look into this. They found us.”
The pastor said one of his main concerns was the location of the panels. He wasn’t keen on people coming to the church for Mass being greeted by a bank of solar panels.
Wanex suggested a small patch of ground in the rear of the church, on a hill facing south. The panels are not visible from the front of the church. Blue Skies Solar and Wind Power, a division of Wanex Electrical Services, installed the 12.72-kilowatt system.
“For the parish, it’s going to produce around 17 kwh (kilowatt hours) of electricity per year, and that will save the church approximately $2,200 a year on its electrical bills,” Wanex said.
The total worth of the materials and labor was not disclosed.
Parishioners have been told of the panels in a notice in the bulletin, and those who have commented to Father Dillingham have been positive.
“I have had some people come to me and say they’re glad we’re being green; they’re glad we’re saving money. They like to see the panels out there. So, a very positive reaction. I think we’d have more if they were more visible,” he said.
The parish owns the system, but Blue Skies will maintain it. The panels are guaranteed for 25 years and could last significantly longer, Wanex said.
“These modules, sun-powered modules, are the most efficient module made in the world. There’s nothing better than what’s out there,” he said.
Wanex is not aware of any other parish in the diocese with solar panels. They are expensive, but there are grant programs to help defray the cost, he said. “You have to look at it as an investment over time, but any parish with the right angled roof or piece of ground (could do it).”
Another option is to have a group of churches join together to install a solar energy system, he said. The panels do not have to be on-site, and the parishes would not even need to be near each other. A parish in northern New Castle County, for example, could partner with a parish in Kent County and another on the lower Eastern Shore in a project. The only requirement, according to Wanex, is that Delmarva Power be the energy supplier for each church.
It’s also possible, with a large enough piece of land, to offset all of the electric bills for a parish or group of parishes, he said.
“There’s a possibility for the diocese to get creative to save the churches money and green the environment at the same time,” he said.