Texas Border Business
By Amanda A. Taylor-Uchoa
BROWNSVILLE, Texas – Glinting in the sun across South Texas, solar panels have made a push into the region touting cleaner and more affordable energy.
Splayed over the roofs of homes, scattered across open fields, or towering in parking lots, solar panels can be spotted everywhere these days.
The recent push for clean energy has been adopted by many large companies, such as Target and Apple to name a few. Closer to home, the Catholic Diocese of Brownsville has taken a step toward green energy, as well.
To help oversee the installation of solar panels at two parishes in Brownsville, a memorandum of understanding (MOU) was established between the Catholic Diocese of Brownsville and the UTRGV Engineering Technology Program within the College of Engineering and Computer Science in August of last year.
The Catholic Diocese, a nonprofit organization, owns 72 parishes, 44 missions and 14 Catholic schools across Starr, Hidalgo, Willacy and Cameron counties.
The partnership with UTRGV will help the organization find a reputable solar panel company to carry out installations, as well as help educate UTRGV engineering students on the impact of using solar energy as a cost-effective resource for environmentally friendly energy.
Dr. Jesus Gonzalez, assistant professor of practice in the program, said the diocese reached out to them for help with technical support.
“We were contacted by a representative from the Catholic Diocese of Brownsville for help with powering some of the parishes with solar energy,” Gonzalez said. “We would provide technical support, not fabrication or installing the project for them, but rather consulting them on what solar panel energy is and how it could help them and how to select a viable vendor.”
With so many solar panel companies in existence, he said, it can be hard to decipher which companies are legitimate.
“We are helping them select better candidates to go on to the next steps and proceed with the project,” he said.
The first part of the project includes the UTRGV program providing requests for qualifications (RFQs) and requests for proposals (RFPs) to the Catholic Diocese, which entails research and time.
“My aunt was taken advantage of by a solar company, and the energy bills were actually higher than before the installation,” he said. “With the church reaching out to us, they know that there are scammers out there, so it’s reassuring to them that we are looking for companies that have done many projects for many years.”
Dr. Immanuel Edinbarough, a professor in UTRGV’s Engineering Technology program, said that while the diocese has parish members and potential investors to help support continuity of the solar panel project, they were lacking the technical knowledge for implementation.
“They want the university to be the neutral authority coming in and giving them advice on the technical front, including who is going to implement the installation and how it is going to be maintained,” Edinbarough said.
Within the project, there is potential for future research projects for UTRGV students to learn about the performance of solar systems on a larger scale.
“They assured us that once we fully implement the project and it’s running, we will have free access for our students to go there and look at how the project was implemented, and they will learn the technical support of a project like that,” Edinbarough said.
While no solar panel company has been selected yet, the Catholic Diocese has received all documents from UTRGV to help them select companies to be interviewed for the project. The installation process is slated to start next year.
The UTRGV Engineering Technology Program, overseen by Dr. Robert Jones, will continue to be a part of the project in the future.