$1.24M grant through EGLE supports energy efficiency, environmental justice


Contact: Richard Killmer, Climate Witness Project consultant, richardlkillmer@gmail.com

Public building upgrade program open to low-income congregations of any faith

A $1,241,505 grant of federal funds through the Michigan Department of Environment, Great Lakes, and Energy (EGLE) will advance environmental justice and reduce greenhouse gas emissions by helping 10 low-income Michigan congregations of various faiths improve the energy efficiency of their buildings.

The grant supports a 30-month pilot effort by the Climate Witness Project (CWP), a partnership of Grand Rapids-based nonprofit World Renew and the Christian Reformed Church of North America. Ten Sacred Spaces Clean Energy Grant awardees, selected by the CWP from among applicants of any faith or denomination, will each receive $100,000 to make improvements that reduce their consumption of fossil fuels for electricity, heating, and cooling. The program addresses two urgent challenges:

  • The need to address climate change by reducing emissions of greenhouse gases.
  • The harm caused by the climate crisis in low-income neighborhoods that can least afford to make changes, along with low-income congregations’ inability to pay for energy efficiency improvements to their facilities because of inequity.

“Houses of worship are often at the heart of community life, and the Climate Witness Project will help them save money and more effectively serve their neighborhoods,” said Gov. Gretchen Whitmer. “With these EGLE grants, congregations can invest in climate-friendly building upgrades and focus their resources on offering vital services to families and neighbors instead of paying high electric and gas bills. We will continue working together to lower costs and build a healthy, prosperous clean-energy future with faith communities and all sectors of our society and economy.”

Congregations applying to the program must have annual budgets under $250,000, 50 or more members, at least 10 years of operation, and must operate from buildings open to the public rather than residential properties. Preference will be given to those within environmental justice communities. Applicants also must operate active programs responding to human needs, such as food pantries or health clinics. The CWP will help faith communities apply for the grant and then walk recipients through the process of achieving energy efficiency. The project also seeks funds to help awardees access solar power.

“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 inequitable environmental degradation, which often confronts them where they live and work,” said CWP consultant Richard Killmer. “This project will provide a model for government agencies, denominations, and philanthropists that want to help low-income congregations reduce their greenhouse gas emissions.”

Kris Van Engen, justice mobilizer with World Renew, expects the project to reinforce community-level environmental leadership.

“Houses of worship in lower-income communities in Michigan make significant impacts in the neighborhoods where they serve,” Van Engen said. “They battle food insecurity; speak out for racial justice; help residents gain access to clean water, as exemplified during the Flint water crisis; and constantly partner with other organizations to contribute to positive change efforts in their communities.

“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.”

Support for the grant comes from the Michigan State Energy Program, through funding from the US Department of Energy (DOE) State Energy Program that Michigan receives for public and private energy efficiency and renewable energy projects.

Grant applications are available on the Sacred Spaces Clean Energy website. CWP plans to share outcomes of the project with congregations across Michigan.

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