Join us for a solar-bration on the summer solstice!

While you’re here, I wanted to share a few statistics from the 2017 net metering summary:

*More customer-owned renewable energy (mostly solar) was installed last year in Indiana (29.2 MW) than all previous years combined (20.0 MW).

*There is still room to grow… the existing 49.2 MW of net-metered systems is still only about 1/5 of the maximum capacity allowed under current rules.

*The net-metering customer base increased 76% in a single year, now reaching nearly 2,000 Hoosier customers.

*Indiana has a total of 275 MW of solar capacity installed. Utility-scale projects are now being planned for the state that are 150-200 MW in size. (Yes, you read that right).

*Percentage of Indiana’s electricity that comes from solar: 0.39%. Our regional electric grid can probably withstand several more years of rapid growth before running into any planning issues around solar’s intermittency. Still lots of room and jobs to grow.

*The solar group-purchase known as “Solarize Indiana” wrapped up last December, and totaled nearly 100 installations across the South Bend-Goshen area, adding up to more than 700 kW. Read more here.

*More reading: “Solar advocates believe industry will overcome net metering changes.”

Grant for Prescribed Burns

A little belated, but here’s the press release:

THE CENTER AT DONALDSON RECEIVES GRANT FOR EQUIPMENT TO CONDUCT PRESCRIBED BURNS

DONALDSON, IN – On April 11, 2018, The Center at Donaldson was awarded $4,400 for its prescribed burn program from Arrow Head County Resource Conservation and Development. This grant allows The Center at Donaldson to purchase equipment and protective gear that will allow the program to increase the number of acres that can brought under a safe and efficient rotation of planned fire as a form of land management.

Adam Thada, Director of Ecological Relationships, started the prescribed burn program in 2016. “During our first dormant season, our team burned 20 acres,” Thada said. “This year, we grew to 32 acres. We would like to burn more, but our scale had been limited by our equipment. Now we can continue to expand. We have up to 170 acres on the property that could benefit from the use of fire.”

The original ecological communities of the Midwest evolved in the context of periodic fires, whether by lightning or by humans. Prairie, savanna, and oak woodlands are some of these biodiverse systems found at The Center at Donaldson.

“Without the use of fire,” Thada noted, “these systems are returning to more shade-tolerant communities that fare poorly during droughts. This is happening right as we are seeing increasing temperatures and drought stress due to climate change. Our management goal is to encourage resilient, fire-adapted systems that can carry biodiversity into the future.”

More of this!

Modern prescribed fire crews receive certification through training programs and use specific equipment and gear. Some of the items purchased with this grant money include a weather meter to record wind speed and humidity, fire-resistant clothing, helmets, and radios. The main piece of equipment purchased is a 50-gallon sprayer. When mounted to the back of a UTV (utility vehicle), it enables a fire crew more off-road flexibility, reaching place that a pickup truck cannot get to.

The effects of the first prescribed burns have already been seen. There is a general increase in the amount of wildflowers seen on the forest floor and in the wetlands. After a thick layer of cattail litter was burned off this spring, marsh marigolds burst into bloom within weeks.

Thada said, “I am grateful to Arrow Head County Resource Conservation and Development for investing in the stewardship of our natural areas. My hope is that we can expand the use of safe and beneficial prescribed fire to other landowners who are interested in the health of their lands.”

The Arrow Head County Resource Conservation and Development is a non-profit organization whose purpose is to provide local leadership for developing and carrying out a plan for the orderly conservation, improvement, development and wise use of natural resources.

Members of the Arrow Head County Resource Conservation and Development Area, Inc. presented Adam Thada, Director of Ecological Relationships, a check for The Center at Donaldson’s prescribed fire program. Pictured are Howard Conner, Adam Thada, and Joe Skelton.

Earthworks – A Great Opportunity for Kids

Here’s a guest post by Cheri Ringer, Coordinator of Earthcare Education at Earthworks.

Are your children spending too much time with technology? Do your children give you a quizzical look when you suggest that they play outside? If so, Earthworks Summer Day Camp is the perfect place for your children to disconnect from technology and learn about our interconnectedness with all of creation. Earthworks Summer Day Camps are designed for children ages 6-10. We use Project Wild and Project Growing up Wild curriculum, created by the United States Department of Natural Resources. (The curriculum is designed to support state and national educational standards for grades K-12, but don’t tell your children 😊). Weekly day camps run Monday thru Friday from 9am until 3pm. Each day is filled with fun activities, all related to nature. We begin the day with music, then proceed with exploring the variety of habitats on campus, art and nature related games. Earthworks provides two snacks and children bring their own lunch. Residents from Maria Center, an independent living community on campus, join the children twice a week for intergenerational activities. An example of the exploring we do each week include a visit to the farm and greenhouse, fishing, hikes through the woods & prairie and a favorite is “kids playing with kids” (of the goat variety). Art experiences either use or are inspired by our natural surroundings.

 

The Summer Day Camp staff includes Libby McEntee and Xena Newland. Libby is a graduating senior of Knox High School planning to attend IU Bloomington to study molecular biology in the fall. This is Libby’s second year working with the program and she also attended the camp as a child. Xena is an Ancilla College graduate planning to continue her education at IUSB in the fall. Xena is working to become a teacher with a focus on Special Education.

We invite you to enroll your child(ren) in one or more of our six weeks of day camp. Please register online at http://earthworksonline.org/summer-program.html . The cost is $150 per week with a 10% discount for additional siblings. Before and after childcare is available upon request. Scholarships are available for up to 50% of the cost of camp. Earthworks day camp provides a safe environment for children to explore nature.

For additional information, call Earthworks at 574.935.4164 or email Cheri Ringer, Coordinator of Earthcare Education at cringer@poorhandmaids.org

two things to celebrate as spring is in full swing

#1… our first Monarch! I saw this individual on May 23, plunging down in the tall grass, which allowed me to sneak up close. Monarchs, of course, are just one species of many that have a spectacular migratory journal. This individual probably emerged somewhere in Texas and flew up here.

(I’ll write a post later about how to distinguish the Monarch from it’s mimic, the Viceroy… I had to go brush up on my notes with this one!).

According to Journey North, the first Monarchs were reported in northern Indiana around late April to early May. With each successive generation (there are several throughout the growing season), the population increases and become more visible to humans who happen to catch them flitting about.

 

#2… our first solar array! Yesterday, the crew from Ag Technologies dropped off some equipment and will start construction this week. It’s been a long road (almost like… an exhausting migration?), but here we finally are… Phase 1 of our exploration into renewable energy. See the press release here.

adventures with volunteers

One important part of my job is education, internally and externally. Receiving volunteers is a great way to spread the message about the natural world.

I have to remind myself of the dual purpose of volunteer partnerships. I’m a pretty direct, task-oriented person. Working with many non-profits over the years, I’m often frustrated by the delayed events, extra administrative work, and “inefficient” outcomes of most volunteering partnerships. But because I don’t lean on volunteers for the bulk of my “doing” work, I instead try to view the partnerships as mostly educational. It is an invitation to wonder, a relationship with natural communities and organisms that usually go unnoticed. If we happen to some tasks accomplished, that’s a bonus!

We recently hosted a cadre of Boy Scout families to help with a tree planting project. Their presence lifted my spirits, and I hope they enjoyed the fresh air or learned something in return.

We don’t discriminate by age!

I also love partnering with Lindenwood Conference and Retreat Center, where groups integrate service-learning in their retreats. We had some very energetic young folks assisting with a roadside trash clean-up and a prairie restoration experiment.

All the warm fuzzies.

Having the privilege to be immersed in the field I am, I usually forget where most people are in regards to ecology. I was rambling on about prairie ecology and prescribed fire for several minutes. A young man nodded thoughtfully and replied, “Hmm. I didn’t even know there was more than one kind of grass!” Just think of all the amazing relationships and wonders he has yet to be awakened to.

While working outside, we came across a Midland Brown Snake (AKA De Kay’s Snake). It was the first time some of them had held a snake. We talked about why the snake was out and about (sunning itself) and what it’s relationships might be in the food web.

I’m a harmless little ecology lesson, wrapped up in a slick brown skin!

My knowledge of “herps” (amphibians and reptiles) is pretty limited, so I used that snake sighting to dive into a guide book later that day and learn a little bit more about the species as well.

In the end, we DID in fact get quite a lot accomplished, which was especially gratifying given how time-sensitive some of the work can be for plant establishment.

Working with volunteers is indeed work, but with a little forethought and persistence, the moments of surprise and connection are worth it.

“Poor Handmaids of Jesus Christ go solar for Earth care and energy savings”

Well… there has been a lot of work behind this little headline, by lots of people. It’s finally time!

I’ll put up some more info later about the 2017 Indiana Net Metering Report that was published several weeks ago, but for now, here’s the press release.

Sr. Loretta, Sr. Mary, and myself in the Senate chambers in 2017, with hundreds of others lobbying for solar-friendly legislation.

For Immediate Release – April 27, 2018

DONALDSON, INThe Poor Handmaids of Jesus Christ are proud to announce the first phase of a renewable energy effort, starting with two solar arrays at The Center at Donaldson.

“We Poor Handmaids seek to show by our choices the respect we have for all of God’s creation or, as Pope Francis says in Laudato Sí to protect our common home,’” said PHJC Provincial Sister Judith Diltz. “Our choice to invest in solar panels will help us be less dependent on fossil fuels for energy.”

The 280-panel, 83 kilowatt (KW) installation is the culmination of 20 months of research and energy-related efforts completed by a project team led by Adam Thada, Director of Ecological Relationships.

“I had the privilege of joining The Center at Donaldson in 2016 to continue the Poor Handmaid’s longtime efforts around sustainability and Creation care,” said Thada. “Energy usage is by far the largest impact of what we call our ‘ecological relationships.’”

The team first compiled data on electricity usage across campus. To gather ideas, they visited several solar and energy efficiency projects across the region.

The first step was an LED lighting retrofit at the Motherhouse, Ancilla College, Lindenwood Retreat and Conference Center, and Catherine Kasper Life Center. Thousands of old lights were recycled with help from the Marshall County Recycle Depot and replaced with high-efficiency LEDs. A NIPSCO efficiency program helped defray some of the costs.

“Energy efficiency is the first step. It is the best financially and from a resource use perspective. Then you can move on to renewables,” Thada noted. “The LEDs alone have dropped our electric demand by 500,000 kilowatt-hours (kWh) each year. This is equivalent to taking more than 50 average homes off the grid, or enough to drive an electric car across the United States 640 times.”

The Center at Donaldson was aided by Appalachian Institute for Renewable Energy (aire-nc.org), who specializes in working with non-profits to effectively own and operate renewable energy systems. AIRE assisted the project team in choosing the best installation site and vendor for the project.

Ag Technologies, Inc. of Rochester, IN will be installing the arrays this summer, using U.S.-made Solarworld panels. Their patented SolarCAM® system consists of ground-mounted, tiltable arrays that are adjusted four times per year to track the sun’s angle for maximum energy production.

The two arrays will help power MoonTree Studios art gallery and The Center at Donaldson’s wastewater treatment plant. The systems have no batteries for energy storage, but rely on “net metering.” Excess power produced during the day is sent back to the utility’s grid and credited to the customer, who draws power when the sun goes down.

“There is still a window of opportunity for homeowners, businesses, and local governments to sign up for solar net metering during the next couple years,” said Thada.

According to the 2017 Net Metering Report, more customer-owned renewable energy was added in 2017 than in all previous years combined. Indiana now has nearly 2,000 net metering customers.

“Stewardship is a choice,” said Thada. “We know scientifically that continuing use of fossil fuels will lead to more workers with black lung disease, children with asthma, and babies with low birth-weights, in addition to massive ecological disruption. Fortunately, alternatives are now available. Ultimately, we get to decide what our legacy will be.”

The project team will monitor the solar system’s performance and watch trends in the renewable energy industry to determine how a larger Phase 2 project could be implemented.

# # #

 

 

Earth Week addendum

Our communications team recorded the first three days of Earth Week. They are available on YouTube and I wanted to list them here:

Monday: “150 Years of Ecology” lecture by yours truly… a look back in time at the history of our land.

Tuesday: Sr. Mary and the Moontree troupe put on a great playlet on the first land surveyors.

Wednesday: Srs. Mary Jo and Linda display and discuss early 20th century household technologies.

 

Earth Week at The Center at Donaldson

We had a great Earth Week here at The Center at Donaldson. Because we have so many co-workers and residents here during the day, our audience for this series is usually internal and a little informal.

Our communications team did a great job posting photos and descriptions on the Facebook page during the week, so I’ll let them take it away from here:

Monday: https://www.facebook.com/TheCenteratDonaldson/posts/999881136833185

Tuesday: https://www.facebook.com/TheCenteratDonaldson/posts/1000383010116331

Wednesday: https://www.facebook.com/TheCenteratDonaldson/posts/1000924496728849

Thursday: https://www.facebook.com/TheCenteratDonaldson/posts/1001462923341673

Friday: https://www.facebook.com/TheCenteratDonaldson/posts/1001941633293802