June 27, 2017 – By Neil Cosgrove

In mid-May, the Thomas Merton Center became a direct participant in the renewable energy revolution. That’s when TMC began drawing more than 60% of its electricity from 16 solar panels installed on the roof of the building where the Center is located.

The building itself is owned by the Bloomfield-Garfield Corporation, but the panels are the result of a $23,500 donation made directly to the Merton Center. The donor, who wishes only to be known as “Joy,” said she was motivated to make the donation by the Center’s role in “hosting, promoting, and listing so many social justice events and group meetings.”

“I’m generally pro-solar,” she continued, “and … I’ve been working with a couple of private individuals on solarizing a few houses. Eventually, I realized that solar on the Merton Center would be a particularly great combination.”

Former TMC Director Tony Lodico was surprised in mid-November when he received a phone call asking if the Center would be interested in having solar panels installed. “Initially,” he recalled, “I thought it was a solicitation, but it turned out to be a donation.” Lodico estimated that the panels have already cut the Center’s electric bill in half.

That result is in keeping with the solar industry’s claims that most panel installations pay for themselves within seven to ten years. Perhaps the biggest incentive for private individuals, rather than non-profits like the Merton Center, is the 30% residential renewable energy tax credit offered by the federal government on the initial investment, for the year when the panels are installed.

As for Joy, our donor, she is interested in providing further funding for solar installations and car charging stations to “other non-profits, municipal buildings or socially minded individuals located 25 to 45 miles outside of Pittsburgh.” Joy’s reasoning is that there are already “plenty of organizations” that could fund such installations and charging stations in the “middle of the web,” meaning downtown Pittsburgh and the city itself. To her, “the distance and geometry matters—you can’t have a web without radiating arms.”

Joy has struggled to find recipients for her generosity, “cold-calling business associations and municipal offices. It’s been like pulling teeth, to potentially find locations in places like Kitanning, Clairton, Export. Never knew it could be so hard to give money away.”

She is hoping the Thomas Merton Center can function as a “clearinghouse for anyone who’d have a lead on a likely location.” Given the support she has provided the Center, that role seems doable. Our phone number is 412-361-3022.

Neil Cosgrove is a member of the NewPeople Editorial Collective and the Merton Center board.