World Renew is the recipient of a grant from the Michigan Department of Environment, Great Lakes and Energy (EGLE) to fund a pilot project focused on places of worship throughout Michigan. This pilot project will provide both retrofitting for energy efficiency, plus the opportunity to install solar panels for qualifying religious buildings in low-income neighborhoods.
This pilot project is designed to address two challenges: first, the urgent need to address climate change through the reduction of greenhouse gasses; and second,the harm caused by the climate crisis in low income neighborhoods, which can least afford to transition to clean energy sources or to even provide mitigation for the damage caused by rising temperatures.
And that damage is real. An investigative report by NPR found that In dozens of major U.S. cities, low-income neighborhoods are more likely to be hotter than their wealthier counterparts, sometimes by up to 10 degrees. This increase in heat often leads to an increase in heat-related sickness as residents in these neighborhoods lack the resources to pay high energy costs or to carry out repairs to make their apartments or homes more energy efficient.
Deleterious effects of climate change also apply to houses of worship based in these neighborhoods. They experience inequitably environmental degradation, while also being unable to pay for the achievement of energy efficiency for public buildings, such as churches and synagogues.
Climate Witness Project, a joint campaign of World Renew and CRCNA, comes alongside organizations to help them reduce their carbon footprint and transition to the use of renewable energy, like solar, wind and geothermal. At the same time, it’s a priority for CWP to also confront environmental injustice that so often characterizes North American communities. This grant is an important tool for accomplishing both goals.
Through Sacred Spaces Clean Energy Grants, houses of worship will be able to reduce their consumption of the fossil fuels that they currently rely on for electricity, heating and cooling. The grant will focus on the following:
- An initial energy efficiency audit
- Creation of a plan of action for each congregation
- A World Renew provided contractor to carry out energy efficiency upgrades for the building
- Educational materials developed for the congregation to continue their community outreach.
Not only will this grant help churches gain solar power and receive Energy Star certification, but it will also provide needed reductions in high electric and gas bills. The savings created by making these public buildings more energy efficient will allow houses of worship to turn that money to more services to their communities.
Climate Witness Project estimates that the energy efficiency efforts as well as the possibility of solar energy will save at least $13,000 in costs for each congregation within one year after the energy efficiency program is completed. The congregations will then increase their community work by a total of $13,000 during the first year after achieving energy efficiency.
According to Richard Killmer, a consultant with the Climate Witness Project, this effort will provide a practical model for future Net Zero efforts in the state of Michigan and throughout the United States. “This [grant] project will provide a model for government agencies, denominations…and philanthropists that want to help low-income congregations reduce their greenhouse gas emissions. They too can financially support the efforts by low-income congregations to achieve energy efficiency consequently reducing their emissions.” .
Kris Van Engen, Justice Mobilizer with World Renew, notes that past environmental injustice makes this type of grant even more important. “One of the stories that's gotten deserved attention through the black lives matter movement is the story of how environmentalists' efforts have historically ignored both the reality of environmental racism and the potential leadership contributions towards solutions from communities of color. We expect that this grant will be a resource for and bring deserved positive attention to leaders who are already making a difference on environmental justice issues in their communities.”
The opportunity to provide affordable energy efficiency to houses of worship in low-income neighborhoods is an opportunity that Richard Killmer is excited about. “Low-income people in the US are also those who confront the climate crisis first and foremost. They do so at the same time they experience inequitably environmental degradation which often confronts them where they live and work.”
Van Engen agrees, pointing out that religious communities are also community leaders. “Houses of worship in lower income communities in Michigan make significant impacts in the neighborhoods where they serve. They battle food insecurity, speak out for racial justice, help residents gain access to clean water,and constantly partner with other organizations to contribute to positive change efforts in their communities. The state of Michigan has been doing great work investing to reduce greenhouse gasses and energy costs and if these community focused houses of worship can be part of those investments it's a win-win for their neighborhoods and the environment.”
Grant applications for qualifying Michigan churches are now open. To learn more about grant guidelines and application steps, visit https://bit.ly/SacredSpacesGrant