News & Press
The afterlife gets a new charge
The New Jersey Star-Ledger
East Hanover cemetery installs solar panels
May 2, 2012
EAST HANOVER â€” At a cemetery, taking care of the dead requires a lot of work. Taking care of the living requires a lot of energy.
Each day, Gate of Heaven Cemetery in East Hanover uses about 50 homes worth of electricity to keep its mausoleum at a comfortable temperature for its many visitors. But to conserve energy and lower costs, Gate of Heaven has installed solar panels, one of only a handful of in the United States to do so.
Cemeteries tend to connote passive, pastoral settings. They are a final resting place so the sight of solar panels may seem a bit unusual, said Joe Verzi, assistant executive director of development and construction with Catholic Cemeteries.
"But we’re a little outside the box," he said. "It’s a great opportunity for us to be part of something special."
The installation of 1,008 solar panels took about three months and did not cost the cemetery a dime. The cost was picked up by Borrego Solar, which owns and operates the panels and became the graveyard’s energy provider. The company charged a few cents more per kilowatt than it takes to produce the energy but still less than what the power company was charging, said Charlie Hughes, project manager.
"This is relatively unique," said Arun Chaddha, owner of SolarMite Solutions, which installed the panels. "I haven’t seen a whole lot of it."
Few cemeteries have mausoleums large enough to make solar panels a cost-effective option, Chaddha said. The ground is usually more valuable as graves. But a big enough mausoleum can change the equation.
Gate of Heaven’s mausoleum has 14,000 spaces in its 110,000 square-foot building, which sits atop a two-acre tract. The mausoleum is filled with stained-glass windows and ornate sculptures, some of which are hundreds of years old. A chapel can accommodate hundreds of worshippers.
David Shipper, who owns and operates 42 cemeteries across the country, said his typical mausoleum has about 500 spaces.
If he could install solar panels without an up-front cost â€” similar to the deal Gate of Heaven got â€” it would be a no-brainer.
"That would be awesome," Shipper said. "It would be incredibly appealing to mausoleum owners around the country."
Gate of Heaven’s mausoleum, like the cemetery, is open dawn until dusk â€” perfect for a solar model.
The solar panels, which sit behind a six-foot fence, a row of newly planted trees and 28,000 graves, will generate 57 percent of the mausoleum’s energy, saving the cemetery hundreds of thousands of dollars over the next decade, Verzi said.
A similar setup was put in place at a Catholic cemetery in California, also named Gate of Heaven.
"We’re seeing lots of results," said Nicole Lecheler, the California cemetery’s marketing and events coordinator. "It generates lots of power for us."
Government is going green as well, installing a solar array at the Southern Arizona Veterans’ Memorial Cemetery. The $170,000 project, funded by the federal and state government, is expected to save the cemetery between $1,400 and $1,500 per month in energy costs.
The Archdiocese of Newark is thinking green more and more these days, following Pope Benedict XVI’s lead. The Vatican installed photovoltaic cells on its main auditorium to convert sunlight into electricity as well as a solar cooling unit for its main cafeteria.
"God has given us this Earth and we do have a responsibility toward trying to make sure it is maintained," said Jim Goodness, communication director for the Archdiocese of Newark. "We have to rise to the level of responsibility that God gave us."
In that vain, the Maryrest Cemetery in Mahwah offers a "green burial," providing consumers with the option of a biodegradable casket made from sustainably grown material such as bamboo or pine. Think of it as the option for those who truly wish to leave the Earth as they found it.
They can avoid embalming and opt out of the concrete vault around the casket. The deceased’s name can be engraved on one of the boulders found at the cemetery instead of a stone brought from off site.
For those who feel that is still too much, there is always no casket, just a shroud.
"This is another way to evangelize," Verzi said. "We have families who have been coming here for generations. This is here to protect the environment for generations to come."
The Associated Press contributed to this report.
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