As heat scorches country, Louisiana congregation unveils solar panels in shift away from fossil fuels

By David Paulsen
Posted Jul 25, 2023
St. Michael's solar panels

St. Michael’s Episcopal Church and Preschool in Mandeville, Louisiana, recently announced the installation of a solar panel array on the roof of one parish building. Photo: St. Michael’s

[Episcopal News Service] An Episcopal congregation in the Diocese of Louisiana is the latest to wear its commitment to clean energy sources on its sleeve – or, in this case, on its roof – with the installation of 80 solar panels that will generate an estimated 20 kilowatts of power.

The solar panels were installed on the roof of the Parish Life Center at St. Michael’s Episcopal Church and Preschool in Mandeville, Louisiana, on the north shore of Lake Pontchartrain, across from New Orleans. The project was completed in partnership with PosiGen, a solar power company with offices from Louisiana to New England. The company works with institutions and homeowners though its solar panel leasing program, with an emphasis on under-served communities.

“Our mission is to engage and transform the community through worship, service, and education,” the Rev. Robert W. Beazley, St. Michael’s rector, said in a news release. “This investment will transform how our community weathers the increasingly frequent natural disasters that impact our area. We’re excited to be able to provide a reliable and sustainable source of energy for our church, preschool, and community even during extended power outages.”

The announcement of a solar panel array at St. Michael’s comes amid increasing alarm at this year’s record-setting summer heat, particularly in the American South and Southwest. Scientists have warned that the intensifying global climate crisis could only get worse in the coming years with human-caused global warming proceeding unchecked.

In Louisiana, the south-central region known as Acadiana is in the middle of an unprecedented heat wave, logging nearly 50 straight days of temperatures above 90 degrees. The city of Lafayette recorded its hottest June ever and is on track for its hottest July ever.

Although short-term local weather fluctuations cannot be attributed entirely to global warming, scientists say longer-term climate patterns and the increased frequency and intensity of severe weather is connected to industrialized countries’ long reliance on energy from burning fossil fuels, which releases carbon into the atmosphere. One part of the solution is investing in clean, renewable energy sources, such as solar and wind.

The Diocese of San Joaquin, in California’s Central Valley, has committed to shifting entirely to renewable energy sources, and it now is on track to reach 95% by 2024, Bishop David Rice said at this month’s It’s All About Love festival. To achieve that goal, the diocese has spent several years equipping its churches with solar power.

Similar efforts are underway in other dioceses. Northern California Bishop Megan Traquair, for example, blessed solar panels at the Episcopal Church of St. Martin in Davis in an April 2021 ceremony. Alabama Bishop Glenda Curry took her turn in October 2021, blessing solar panels at St. Stephen’s Episcopal Church in Vestavia Hills. Other local examples stretch from San Diego to the Diocese of Massachusetts.

The 80th General Convention endorsed the turn away from carbon-based energy when it met in July 2022, passing Resolution A087 on “net carbon neutrality.” Among the resolution’s provisions, it encouraged “parishes, dioceses, schools, camps and other Episcopal institutions to pursue their own goal of net carbon neutrality by 2030 through a combination of reducing emissions from travel, reducing energy use, increasing energy efficiency in buildings, and purchasing offsets from duly investigated, responsible, and ethical partners.”

At St. Michael’s in the Diocese of Louisiana, the congregation’s new solar panels are intended to reduce its energy dependence while also using the anticipated cost savings to invest in its preschool. A backup battery system also was installed, which will allow the church to serve as a community cooling and charging station during power outages.

“The biggest challenge was figuring out if it was even possible,” Les Bascle, junior warden, said in the news release. “Solar and battery technology is light years ahead of where it was just a decade ago. We are extremely grateful for PosiGen’s willingness to partner with us to create this renewable energy system.”

The Diocese of Louisiana said the project aligns with efforts across the diocese to reduce the environmental impact of all its churches.

“We’re proud to be leading the way in our community and look forward to sharing the benefits of renewable energy and community resiliency with our neighbors,” Beazley said.

– David Paulsen is a senior reporter and editor for Episcopal News Service. He can be reached at