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Helping Grand Rapids Non-Profits Transition to Clean Energy

This dispatch was added by one of our Nonprofit Neighbors. It does not represent the editorial voice of The Rapidian or Community Media Center.

The initial costs for installing solar power can be prohibitive to houses of worship and non-profits. And yet, these local institutions can also lead the way in inspiring others in the community to embrace clean energy.

/World Renew

/Photo by Los Muertos Crew

Grand Rapids, MI - Grand Rapids based international development agency World Renew helps free families from poverty in 30 countries worldwide. Through relief aid, World Renew responds to disasters with food, medicine, and volunteer assistance.This non-profit also works to fight the effects of climate change around the world and recently at its own headquarters, thanks to a new Michigan initiative, Solar Faithful.

The initial costs for installing solar power can be prohibitive to houses of worship and non-profits. And yet, these local institutions can also lead the way in inspiring others in the community to embrace clean energy. That’s the heart behind Solar Faithful, a new non-profit dedicated to making solar power affordable to faith-based organizations. World Renew’s climate initiative, the Climate Witness Project, is a partner of Solar Faithful.

According to board member Jennifer Young of Michigan Interfaith Power and Light, “We feel like Solar Faithful is a way we could level the playing field and make solar accessible to all.” Using an innovative funding model, this new non-profit allows churches to get solar power with no money down.

Focused on the moral imperative for installing clean energy, Solar Faithful believes this is a way churches and nonprofits can live out the command to love their neighbors. One reason for this is because as more organizations embrace clean energy, demand for fossil fuel power generation decreases.

Board member John Mirsky pointed out that using solar displaces power that is generated by the utility. Most of that electricity is generated by fossil fuels, including coal and natural gas. When those fuels are burned, you create pollutants, which he referred to as “atmospheric sewage.” Most power plants are located in low income neighborhoods, so as those plants shutter from lack of demand, pollution is reduced, especially for those communities.

World Renew is now taking advantage of Solar Faithful’s model to get solar panels installed at its headquarters. They have signed a contract to install panels though a direct purchase option, and are currently in the permitting phase. The opportunity to continue the transition to clean energy is an important part of World Renew’s commitment to reducing its carbon footprint.

Another important facet of Solar Faithful’s model is their focus on inclusion and environmental justice. The clean energy industry is not immune to the temptation of putting profits over people, which is why Solar Faithful has made a deliberate effort to do business with others who share the nonprofit’s values. Their bank is a B-corporation. They are committed to paying fair wages to installers and repair persons.They’re actively working to make solar affordable for low income congregations.

The basic premise behind the nonprofit is simple. Solar Faithful partners with investment firm Sunwealth. This firm then contracts with Chart House Energy to put solar panels on the building’s roof. Because the solar panels are then owned by Sunwealth, the church pays a PPA (power purchase agreement) to buy the power that comes from the solar array.

About 75% of the power the church or nonprofit needs will come from those panels, and the other 25% will come from the utility. The customer’s only financial burden will be paying two utility bills - one to Sunwealth and one to the utility company with a guaranteed 10% savings on the power bill.

Michigan churches that have been through the program include:

  • First Lutheran, North Muskegon
  • Trinity AME, Lansing
  • Ferry Memorial (RCA), Montague

“Our actions…bear witness to what’s important to us. We believe that by houses of worship installing solar, you’re going to inspire your members, your neighbors and other nearby congregations to install solar.” - John Mirsky

To learn more, fill out the Solar Faithful interest form.

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