Solar energy is helping to save what some might see as an unlikely ally: a group of Trappistine nuns. The nuns have been living and working at Mount Saint Mary’s Abbey outside of Boston for more than six decades. They have spent that time harvesting the land and living a modest existence in harmony with nature. The Abbey’s latest development – the installation of some 20,000 or so solar panels – is another great way for the order to continue to live in harmony with nature while also supporting themselves.
Sister Alice Chau sees the solar panels as a continuation of the nuns past decades spent working the land. She says, “Instead of harvesting crops, we harvest electricity.”
Many of the more than 40 sisters are growing too old for the backbreaking manual labor that running a farm requires, so the Abbey turned to other ideas to support its aging population.
One of the nuns most valuable resources has always been the more than 500 acres of land on which the abbey sits. So, when local Trappists brothers recommended leasing some of the land for solar panels the nuns jumped at the opportunity.
The new solar installation not only provides the nuns with a steady source of income, but it will provide the nearby town of Franklin with more than 80 percent of the energy used in public buildings. Kearsarge Energy is responsible for installing and maintaining the solar panels on the leased land for the next 20 years.
These particular nuns are no strangers to alternative energy sources – they had already installed a wind turbine and a geothermal generator before the solar panels. For their dedication to environmentally-sound energy generation practices, the nuns were awarded the Energy Leadership Award by the Massachusetts Energy Consumers Alliance, a non-profit that actually purchases any excess energy generated by the sister’s wind turbine.
However, the sisters don’t see themselves as anything more than simple nuns. “We didn’t plan it,” said Sister Alice. “It seems that this is the way that God is leading us. We did all these three out of necessity.” The nuns appreciate that their alternative energy sources give them the ability to focus on their prayer and meditation, without being worried about their pocketbooks.