Clean Energy for Sacred Places: Michigan Grant Announcement


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 enable congregations to achieve energy efficiency and if sufficient funding is secured those same congregations will receive solar energy. .

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 make changes. Through this grant, houses of worship will be able to reduce their consumption of the fossil fuels that they currently rely on for electricity, heating and cooling.

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.”

Not only will this grant help congregations potentially have access to 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 houses of worship more energy efficient will enable houses of worship to use that money to provide more services to their communities.

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.”

World Renew’s Climate Witness Project will provide consultation and support, helping houses of worship to both apply for the grant and then walking with the congregations through the process of achieving energy efficiency.

Michigan Gov. Gretchen Whitmer lauded this grant, saying, “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. 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.”

For the last 7 years, World Renew’s Climate Witness Project has been actively involved in helping organizations throughout North America conduct energy efficiency audits, and then implement needed changes. Four Christian Reformed Congregations, as well as CRCNA’s headquarters have become Energy Star buildings. The Climate Witness Project has also encouraged congregations to use solar energy. One church partner in Grand Rapids has developed an extensive solar array which provides much of the building’s energy needs.

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, as exemplified during the Flint water crisis, and constantly partner with other organizations to contribute to positive change efforts in their communities. The state of Michigan has been doing great work reducing 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 houses of worship in Michigan opened on June 13th 2022.