John Paul II Secondary School principal Peter Cassidy delivers remarks at the ribbon-cutting of the new carbon-neutral school in London, Ont. Photo courtesy Raymond Garcia

Catholic school Canada’s first to go carbon-neutral

By 
  • November 13, 2021

John Paul II Secondary School in London, Ont., is Canada’s first self-sufficient, carbon-neutral school, drawing on solar and geothermal energy for its power needs.

The project saw 2,700 carport solar panels installed throughout the parking lots of the school, which provide 825 kWDC of power to a battery system that will heat, cool and provide electricity.

The improvements will greatly reduce greenhouse gas emissions to near zero and remove approximately 277 tons of carbon on a yearly basis. A ribbon-cutting ceremony was held Nov. 2.

“There was will at the executive levels of the school board to engage in this project and that’s really what allowed it to come about,” said Peter Cassidy, principal at John Paul II.

Cassidy understands the difficulty for school boards “to engage in projects that exceed the basic requirements” because of funding issues, but is proud of the board for making it happen. The London Catholic District School Board funded more than half of the $9.7-million project with the federal government contributing $4.8 million.

“The fact that they were able to work cooperatively in what I think was a really sophisticated collaboration between a variety of government agencies, local power authorities and different energy partners was probably a difficult navigation but they persisted,” said Cassidy.

Renewable energy company Ameresco, Inc. started retrofitting for the project in 2019, with minor delays due to the COVID-19 pandemic. The board has had a historical relationship with the company in implementation of energy-reduction projects worth more than $50 million across its facilities over the past decade.

“We are thrilled to continue our partnership with the London District Catholic School Board by collaborating on such a monumental project,” said Bob McCullough, president of Ameresco Canada. “Our work with JPII is a wonderful illustration of how a complex project seemingly far beyond a facility’s budget can be completed through flexible funding and adaptation. This sets the stage for how other educational institutions can implement infrastructures to achieve carbon-neutral goals in the future.”

The solutions implemented not only helped the school become energy self-sufficient, but also delivered significant cost savings with a 68-per-cent reduction in baseline electricity costs.

With the United Nations Climate Change Conference COP26 running until Nov. 12, the need to transition to clean energy has been paramount in the discussion on sustainability and preserving the environment for future generations. In Pope Francis’ environmental encyclical Laudato Si’, he laments environmental degradation and global warming and calls all people of the world to take “swift and unified global action.” 

The significance and symbolism of a Catholic school being at the forefront of such change in Canada is not lost on Cassidy. He says the board commitment and investment in this project is an example of putting “our money where our values are.” The fact that the ribbon cutting took place during Treaties Recognition Week can also, he says, stand as a symbol of the school community’s commitment to follow the example of sustainability set by Indigenous peoples.

“We often read the land acknowledgement at school and we talk about the First Nations people so I think we can learn a lot from them about stewardship as well,” he said. “This taking place during Treaties Recognition Week seemed like a pretty serendipitous thing. I think we’re trying to be consistent with our faith and our values and this is representative of that.”

A similar project is being pursued in Sudbury, Ont.

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