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Could cemeteries be the future for solar power?

solar power cemetery
Posted at 3:53 PM, Aug 12, 2021

Nothing but quiet encompasses the Mount Oliver Cemetery in Watertown, Connecticut. It is the kind of quiet that lends itself to reflection.

But William Herchel, CEO of Verogy, walks around this cemetery and sees a different kind of reflection happening.

"This is really the perfect place to make power," he said.

The solar company Herchel helped found is still very much in its infancy, and like most renewable energy companies around the country, breaking into the business of power generation isn't easy.

Perhaps the most expensive part of getting off the ground is finding land to build solar farm, which is how these solar panels ended up in an unused section of the cemetery owned by the Catholic Cemetery Association.

"This would’ve been sitting here for 20 years. There’s really no downside to doing this. The church maintains ownership and doing something good for the environment," Herchel said, walking between the rows of solar panels that have been constructed.

Understanding why the Catholic Church decided to make the jump into the business of renewal power means understanding much larger trends happening in the business of death

"Cremation has been increasing for decades, for many decades," explained Jack Mitchell with the National Funeral Director's Association.

Over the last few decades, Mitchell has watched as cremation has become more popular in the United States.

Nearly 150,000 graveyards and cemeteries are situated across this country. But more and more Americans are choosing cremation each year over traditional burials. Last year, 58% of Americans chose cremation up from about 40% back in the 1960s.

By 2030, nearly 70% of people in the United States are expected to choose cremation, meaning cemeteries will end up with a lot of unused land.

That ended up being good news for William Herchel and his solar company. For the next 20 years, Verogy is leasing this empty section of the cemetery in Watertown, Connecticut to generate power. A total of 16 acres of land that would've sat empty for decades is now creating enough power for 428 homes.

None of the land being used for the solar farm has any burial plots beneath it.

"For an entity so ingrained in tradition to think in a savvy, progressive way to continue to provide and own this property for their parish going forward, it’s really impressive," Herchel added.

Last year, renewable energy generated more electricity than either coal or nuclear power. But building the kind of infrastructure to support that need is taking creativity.