This month, CARITAS, located in Richmond, Virginia, started using solar energy to run its unique recovery and homeless services facilities. The solar energy system, which will be operated by Secure Solar, is anticipated to generate enough clean energy to power the equivalent of 39 ordinary households and to offset 310 tons of carbon dioxide pollution, covering a significant percentage of the new facility’s energy needs.
“There’s no other organization quite like CARITAS in that we provide all of the solutions to homelessness and addiction under one roof,” says CARITAS President & CEO Karen Stanley. “Our commitment to providing a holistic solution to homelessness and addiction starts with the building.”
The CARITAS Center opened in 2020 during the pandemic, but it didn’t let that slow the organization down. In addition to its emergency shelter, workforce development program, and Furniture Bank initiatives, the center houses a new women’s rehabilitation program and a sober-living apartment complex. Along with a second facility at 700 Dinwiddie Avenue, the center employs over 100 people to assist the neighborhood round-the-clock. The nonprofit organization offered men and women in its recovery program 36,000 nights of refuge in 2017 in addition to 15,653 nights of emergency shelter.
“We worked with interior designers and architects with experience in the hospitality industry so our space feels more like a home than an institution,” she says. “As an intentional part of achieving that goal, we infused a variety of clean energy elements into the building that reflect the value placed on our participant and staff mental and physical well-being.”
The largest solar power system at any shelter assisting homeless persons in Virginia, and probably on the East Coast, was erected by Secure Solar Futures of Staunton, which used 782 photovoltaic solar panels of the Heliene brand. It is anticipated that the 313 kilowatts of clean energy produced by the solar arrays on the CARITAS Center will save the organization’s electric utility costs by $224,358 over the next 25 years.
“Solar power will save money on energy that CARITAS can apply to their mission of helping people improve their lives,” said Ryan McAllister, CEO of Secure Solar Futures. “The flat roof of the former warehouse building that they transformed into a beautiful energy efficient space was perfectly suited to hosting a solar power system large enough to make CARITAS a leader on clean energy.”
“Innovation is one of our core values at CARITAS,” says Stanley. “As we brought this bold vision for the CARITAS Center to life, it was important that we integrated new energy solutions into our project. We hope we can lead the way as other nonprofits bring solutions like this to life in their communities.”
The choice to incorporate solar electricity at the new site is consistent with CARITAS’ dedication to responsible stewardship of both financial and ecological resources, the organization notes. About 45 solar tubes are also included in the structure, and they will be used to filter natural light throughout the Center. To control use and expenses, several appliances have earned the ENERGY STAR certification. The building’s restrooms also have automated shut-off features.
The solar energy equipment was installed by Secure Solar at no upfront capital expense to CARITAS, and the system will be run under a 25-year Power Purchase Agreement. Over that term, CARITAS will purchase from Secure Futures at a discounted rate all the electricity produced by the on-site solar panels. A $17,000 grant from the RVA Solar Fund, managed by the Community Foundation for Greater Richmond, will be used by CARITAS.
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