The Environmental Ethics class in the Spring of 2001 worked closely with David Chalmers, Director of Physical Plant, to define its class project. Because the focus topic of this particular semester was global climate change, and because California was experiencing power outages, we were acutely aware of the vulnerability of the seminary to the inconsistent capacities of the electricity grid.
David Chalmers offered our class the option of working with him to investigate the possibilities of installing solar panels on the roof of one of the historic houses on campus, at 26 Kensington Court, where Gurdon Oxtoby used to live with his family. One of us, Will McGarvey, contacted a state-approved contractor to visit our campus and explore the possibilities. When the contractor came, Linda Gruel with her past work experience in the power industry, and Garry Schmidt with his past experience as a contractor, could understand what the options signified. David showed him the house we were considering, and he concurred the roof has a favorable aspect toward the sun. David consulted with the Facilities Committee of the Board of Trustees, and it seemed that there was no reason not to invest, and plenty of reasons to invest in solar panels. The installation was completed at about the same time the 7 students and 2 children moved into the newly renovated home to live together in intentional community.
The four panels on the roof are barely visible, and even if they were, we would be proud of them. They heat a fluid similar to antifreeze (water and proplylene glycol mixture), which is pumped via a closed loop tube to the basement, to a highly insulated water tank. Through the process of heat exchange, water in the solar storage tank is heated by the water and proplylene glycol mixture and then transferred to the hot water tank where it is made available to the home. On those days when solar heat is not sufficient to heat the water to the degree desired, the natural gas-powered tank is triggered automatically by the Differential Temperature Control Unit to provide supplemental heat. The houses' inhabitants do not have to do anything to control the water heating function. They enjoy hot water all the time without any extra effort.
We are delighted to have begun the process of relying more on sustainable energy in this setting of theological reflection. We have responsibilities and gifts for preserving the possibility of flourishing the precious gift of life on earth.