Solar system to cover 80% of church’s power needs

KIHEI – South Maui’s sunny skies are being put to good use at St. Theresa Church, where nearly 400 rooftop photovoltaic panels are now powering the church, its parish hall, its kitchen and various buildings.

The 85-kilowatt solar system is expected to meet about 80 percent of the church’s electricity needs and significantly reduce its energy costs, church officials said.

“It was undertaken to save the parish money in the years to come and to better utilize our natural resources with the least environmental impact, and for our keiki – our future generation,” Paul Corarito, business manager for St. Theresa Church, said at a blessing ceremony Sunday.

The blessing, led by Monsignor Terrence Watanabe – or Father Terry – drew a crowd of supporters eager to witness the project’s unveiling.

Corarito noted that a solar water heater also was recently installed for the church’s Hale Kau Kau kitchen, a program that provides daily meals to the hungry and homeless of all faiths.

“Our church is green,” Corarito said.

The church anticipates first-year energy savings of $8,755 from the rooftop photovoltaic system alone, and more than $575,000 over the next 20 years.

St. Theresa parish members began planning several years ago for ways to incorporate renewable energy systems and reduce energy consumption.

“Since the project required approval from (the Roman Catholic Diocese of Hawaii), the proposal was sent to the diocese in 2009, which was so well received that they decided to implement the concept in all 66 parishes,” Corarito said. “There, the selection of a contractor and investor on a larger scale began.”

Honolulu-based Trane has been contracted to deploy renewable energy projects at nine parishes statewide, with St. Theresa’s system being the first one completed, said Don Mitchell, strategic solutions business development director for Trane.

Mitchell said that under the deal his company provides the upfront investment for the systems and the churches then pay the investor a fixed rate for electricity.

“The parish didn’t pay anything upfront,” he said. “The utility bill will come from the investor rather than from Maui Electric Co., at a rate less than the MECO rate.”

Corarito said that the church previously had been paying between 43 cents to 46 cents per kilowatt hour – including surcharges – for electricity from Maui Electric Co. That amounted to a monthly bill of about $5,000 to $6,000.

With the photovoltaic system, the church will be paying 26 cents per kilowatt hour for about 80 percent of its total energy usage, saving St. Theresa up to $1,000 a month, Corarito said.

“I’m waiting for the first bill,” Corarito said.

Mitchell said that the system at St. Theresa is under a so-called net metering agreement with the utility, where any excess power generated is put onto MECO’s electric grid.

“It’s great to be able to help the community and provide a good project that will help this community over the years,” said Wyatt Apple, project manager for Trane. He noted that the system has a projected life span of 20 to 40 years.

Other Maui parishes set to receive renewable energy upgrades include Maria Lanakila in Lahaina and St. Anthony in Wailuku. A 50-kilowatt photovoltaic system was recently completed for Christ the King in Kahului, as well.

* Nanea Kalani can be reached at