Catholic Youth Expedition site holds ribbon cutting for solar panel system

Solar energy will offset center’s carbon emissions, says Fr. Quinn Mann

BAILEYS HARBOR — Using a play on words, Fr. Quinn Mann said Catholic Youth Expeditions (CYE) is bringing souls to God the Father through Christ the Son. And Christ’s “sun” will have something to do with it, too.

Fr. Quinn Mann cuts the ribbon for the new solar panel system at St. Joseph Formation Center in Baileys Harbor. The panel, up and running since mid-July, has already cut the electrical costs for the campus by half. Holding the ends of the ribbon are Sam Dunaiski, left, program manager at Renew Wisconsin, which provided a grant for the project, and Jesse Michalski of Eland Electric, which installed the solar panel. (Monica Sawyn | For The Compass)

On Aug. 13, the ribbon was cut on a new $47,000 solar panel array at CYE’s St. Joseph Formation Center, where more than 500 young people come each year for outdoor expeditions and opportunities to encounter God. The solar array will cut monthly energy costs in half. The system was operational on July 16, and in less than a month, had already offset 1,325 pounds of CO2 emissions, according to RENEW Wisconsin, a nonprofit organization which promotes renewable energy in Wisconsin.

The ceremony was greeted with enthusiasm by CYE’s summer staff, who sang a song they had adapted to include verses about the new solar venture. The current group of expeditioners was there in full force, as well as the Missionaries of the Word sisters who minister at CYE.

“The young people think this is really neat,” Fr. Mann said.

RENEW Wisconsin provided a $10,000 grant for the project through Solar for Good, which is primarily funded through a donation from philanthropists Cal and Laurie Couillard of Deerfield. CYE received another grant for $11,000 from Focus on Energy. The remaining $26,000 will be raised by sharing information with CYE’s donor base about the progress and completion of the project.

Fr. Mann, founder and director of CYE, said he has always been interested in sustainable energy. Stewardship of the earth’s resources gives glory to God because “the Creator can’t be separated from his creation.” However, Fr. Mann said, other ideologies have “hijacked” the whole environmental stewardship idea which is something the Catholic Church has always supported.

“We need to get in on this game,” he said. “The facilities we have throughout the church aren’t sustainable as they operate now.”

For that reason, Fr. Mann said he dreams of seeing all parishes develop solar “micro-grids” to operate their own facilities as well as to provide emergency power to their communities in case of disasters. He said money for this may be available from the huge fines imposed on Volkswagen for the “dieselgate” scandal involving emissions violations.

Fr. Mann hopes eventually to electrify the whole Baileys Harbor campus as well as its fleet of vehicles, something that may need to be done over time. According to Fr. Mann, Eland Electric — which installed the solar panels — estimated it would take seven years to get to the breakeven point in the current investment.

Fr. Mann said they currently have four diesel vehicles — a truck, a van and two buses. They plan to begin the changeover in 2019 by purchasing one 50-kilowatt electric battery bus which will be built by pairing Bluebird Buses with the Adomani Electric Drive Train. The two diesel-powered buses currently in use will be donated to missions in Nicaragua.

“We drive 9,200 miles a year to bring expeditioners to Door County from Appleton,” Fr. Mann said. “The electric bus will, hopefully, be recharged here.” In the process CYE will continue to shrink its carbon footprint.

Fr. Mann brought the idea for the solar panel to CYE’s board last November.

“They said if we could get those two grants, they’d support it. And we got them. Well, God did it,” Fr. Mann said. Eight months later, the system was up and running.

As an aside, Fr. Quinn noted that in the 1970s, also in Door County, a 14-year-old got his start in sustainable energy via electric propulsion. He was staying with his family at Alpine Resort in Egg Harbor when he found a discarded golf cart. With permission, he refurbished it, and later refurbished an old Porsche with an electric drive. The young man was J. B. Straubel, founder and chief technical officer for Tesla, Inc., the electric car company.

As for Fr. Quinn, he intends to make this commitment to sustainable energy very personal.

“I plan to get my own electric car,” he said.