by Olivia Martin
KANSAS CITY, Kan. — Starting in 2020, the Sisters of Charity of Leavenworth (SCLs) and Benedictine College in Atchison will join more than a dozen other institutions in receiving clean wind-powered energy from the future Soldier Creek Wind Energy Center in Nemaha County through Westar Energy’s Renewables Direct program.
Benedictine and the SCLs both were approached by Ed Broxterman, their contact with Westar, about joining the initiative.
“It looked pretty good, so we seized on it,” said Keith Taylor, director of facilities for the SCLs.
Benedictine CFO Ron Olinger agreed.
“The fact that it’s sustainable energy is important to the college,” said Olinger. “That, in addition to what appears to be the opportunity to save some money, was a driving factor in our decision to join the initiative.”
How it works
Until Renewables Direct, wind energy was accessible mainly to large corporations. These corporations stake a claim on a given wind farm’s energy production through using a new financial tool called a virtual power purchase agreement.
This agreement allows a company to buy power directly from a wind farm at a fixed cost. The company then sells the electricity to a regional electrical grid at the market price for that day.
If the market price is less than the fixed cost the company pays the wind farm, the company loses money. If the market price is higher, it gains money.
Another draw for corporations to virtual power purchase agreements is that they directly contribute to the construction of new wind farms, which offset dependency on fossil fuels.
According to Kansas City attorney Alan Anderson, about half of the wind farms that are built in the U.S. are because of virtual power purchase agreements.
Westar noticed large corporations’ savings and contributions to clean energy through virtual power purchase agreements and wanted to offer smaller institutions a similar opportunity.
Renewables Direct was the result.
“[On a traditional electrical bill,] there’s an energy (fuel) tariff that occurs and is variable,” said Taylor.
But because wind is the fuel producing the energy at the wind farm, and it’s free, the fuel tariff disappears when an institution joins the Renewables Direct program. In the fuel tariff’s place is a fixed, renewable fee.
For the SCLs and Benedictine alike, that fee will remain fixed until 2020. Both institutions expect to save money over time.
“I think we have the potential to save eight to ten thousand dollars a year in the long run,” said Taylor. “But that’s not the main reason we’re doing this.”
More than saving money
“We are thinking of it as an investment with deep ecological value,” said Therese Horvat, the communications director for the SCLs. “[The Sisters’] actions are where their beliefs are.”
For the SCLs, conservation has always been a part of their history. And sustainability efforts have naturally followed.
From educating the community to environmental consciousness, using cloth napkins to recycling and composting, the Sisters are deeply committed to caring for the earth for future generations and as a means of glorifying God.
Every six years, the SCLs hold a national chapter meeting in which they create and enact a directional statement to live as a focus for the following six years.
“Part of [the 2010 and 2016 directional statements are] recognizing the sacredness of earth and all creation and helping to work on that,” said Sister Eileen Haynes, the community councilor for the SCLs.
“[Environmental consciousness] often tends to escape [Catholics],” she added, “because historically that understanding has not been a key spoken part of who we are as a church.”
That is, at least, not until Pope Francis’ 2015 encyclical “Laudato Si’, On Care for Our Common Home” was released.
“[Creation] is a gift God has given us,” said Sister Eileen. “Therefore, it’s our responsibility in a sense to love it, to take care of it.
“’Laudato Si’ has helped me to see God’s presence where I had not known it before.”
Starting in 2020, the SCLs electrical consumption will rely completely on renewable energy sources — a combination of their own solar panels and the Soldier Creek Wind Energy Center.
“It’s very refreshing to see their efforts [toward sustainability],” said Taylor. “In my previous positions, [sustainability] wasn’t as much of a commitment as it is here. It goes all the way through the community.”
For the Sisters, the best part of participating in the Renewables Direct program is taking another step in being better stewards of God’s creation.“It means we get to leave using coal and oil, which automatically brings us to a space of respecting and caring for the earth,” said Sister Eileen. “I think it’s exciting!”