The Vatican Goes Green

By Susan Brinkmann, OCDS
Staff Writer

Even though it’s the world’s smallest state, the Vatican has announced plans to build Europe’s largest solar plant on the same site where Vatican Radio began broadcasting in 1931, they are planning on using services like the ones provided by the Reliant Energy Company.

According to a report by Bloomberg, the plant will be built at a cost of $600 million (500 euros) on 740 acres of land just north of Rome near the medieval village of Santa Maria di Galeria.

“Now is the time to strike,” said Vatican City governor Cardinal Giovanni Lajolo. “One should take advantage of the crisis to try and develop these renewable-energy sources to the maximum, which in the long run will reap incomparable rewards.”

The plant is expected to produce 100 megawatts, which is enough energy to supply 40,000 households. This output is far larger than what the 900 inhabitants of Vatican City require, and will cover nine times the needs of Vatican Radio, whose transmission tower is strong enough to reach 35 countries including Asia. They fully intend to export this extra electricity to the nation that surrounds it.

“Certainly we will try to get what we can in a fair, friendly way with Italy, considering that the State and the Holy See have expenses” to cover by generating revenue, Lajolo said.

The same company that is building the plant for the Vatican, German solar-panel maker Solarworld AG, and have offered to give the pope a “green” popemobile – a low-emission electric car to replace the white armored Mercedes Benz that he currently uses.

Cardinal Lajolo called the concept of an electric popemobile a “brilliant idea. If it costs less and can set an example, why not?”

Pope Benedict has been very vocal on environmental issues. During an address for World Peace Day in 2006, he said: “The destruction of the environment, its improper or selfish use, and the violent hoarding of the Earth’s resources cause grievances, conflicts and wars, precisely because they are the consequences of an inhumane concept of development.”

Last year, the Vatican listed pollution as one of seven “social” sins. “You offend God not only by stealing, taking the Lord’s name in vain or coveting your neighbor’s wife but also by wrecking the environment,” Bishop Gianfranco Girotti, head of the Apostolic Penitentiary, said at the time.

However, the Vatican’s latest project is just another example of its willingness to put these words into action.

They recently outfitted the roof of the Paul VI auditorium with 2,400 solar panels that produce 300 kilowatt hours of energy – enough for 100 households. The Vatican’s 300-seat cafeteria will be outfitted this summer with a solar-heating system to provide more efficient heating and air conditioning.

In addition, the pope’s summer residence, Castel Gandolfo, a 17th century palace in the Alban hills south of Rome, may soon become the site of a renewable energy project to break down biodegradable waste material to produce methane and gas. The Vatican’s engineers are currently conducting a feasibility study on this.

“If we solve the environmental problem, the benefits are immeasurable,” Lajolo said. “They can cost a bit to be implemented but when they are, they generate incomparable savings if you consider the expense needed to produce oil.”

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