Cross-shaped solar array at Mundelein seminary a first for Archdiocese of Chicago

  • The new cross-shaped solar array at the University of St. Mary of the Lake Mundelein seminary can be seen from up to 20,000 feet above.

    The new cross-shaped solar array at the University of St. Mary of the Lake Mundelein seminary can be seen from up to 20,000 feet above. Courtesy of Mundelein Seminary

  • The University of St. Mary of the Lake Mundelein seminary has activated its new cross-shaped solar array. The new system will provide significant savings and represents a commitment to clean energy, according to university officials.

    The University of St. Mary of the Lake Mundelein seminary has activated its new cross-shaped solar array. The new system will provide significant savings and represents a commitment to clean energy, according to university officials. Courtesy of Mundelein Seminary

  • The University of St. Mary of the Lake Mundelein seminary has installed a solar array in the shape of a cross that is said to be visible from 20,000 feet above.

    The University of St. Mary of the Lake Mundelein seminary has installed a solar array in the shape of a cross that is said to be visible from 20,000 feet above. Courtesy of Mundelein Seminary

 
 
Updated 12/28/2020 11:19 AM

A cross-shaped solar array that eventually will provide more than 20% of the power to St. Mary of the Lake Mundelein Seminary is up and running on the college's sprawling campus.

More than a year in the making, the solar farm east of Route 45 and north of Route 176 is said to be the first on a Catholic seminary campus and the first installed in the Archdiocese of Chicago.

 

The array is expected to produce significant savings and represents a commitment to clean energy, said university spokesman Matt Paolelli. The symbolically arranged cross of solar panels is visible from 20,000 feet above.

"Most (arrays) are designed on a rectangle," said David Brochu, CEO of PureGen Power LLC, which helped the university develop, build and operate the system. "All the contractors said, 'We'll do it in the shape of a cross at no extra cost.'"

A ceremonial switch flipping planned for Dec. 22 was canceled due to scheduling conflicts, but the significance of the array -- which went active Christmas Day -- has been noted by those involved.

"As we approach the centennial of Mundelein Seminary, it is exciting to complete a project that will both help the institution financially and provide sustainable energy for years to come," said the Rev. John Kartje, the university's rector/president. "This solar facility will also serve as a physical reminder of our biblical responsibility to be good stewards of the earth and its resources."

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The initiative began after a conversation between Kartje and Brochu, a Deer Park resident and longtime supporter of the seminary. The project kicked off in September 2019. It took about two months to install the panels and related equipment.

St. Mary of the Lake was accepted into a program to support solar energy projects across Illinois and will receive funding for about a third of the construction cost. That made it feasible for the university to pursue, Brochu said.

The facility is owned and operated by a limited liability company called USML Laudato Si Solar LLC, formed by investors who lease the land from the university. Paolelli said the company name references Pope Francis' 2015 letter that addressed the Catholic Church's commitment to environmental issues and sustainability.

"It's a very standard way of doing it, especially for larger systems like this," Brochu added. "It allows the university to get the benefit of the lower electricity price but they don't make the capital investment."

Power will be sold back to the university at a discounted rate, saving more than $1 million over 35 years. Eventually, the university will take ownership and maintain the system.

"I can't give them $1 million, but I can help them save $1 million," Brochu said.

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