With an Eye to Mission and Money, More Evangelical Universities Go Green

New financing mechanisms reduce the cost of reducing emissions.

There are two reasons to put solar panels on the roofs of Calvin University.

One, renewable energy can provide power for the private Christian campus in Grand Rapids, Michigan, without adding to the atmospheric concentrations of carbon dioxide, methane, chlorofluorocarbons, and nitrous oxide that are driving climate change.

Two, it will save the school some money.

At Calvin, the environmental reason is primary. The budgetary help is a bonus.

“I think taking care of the planet is a prerequisite to being a Christian,” Tim Fennema, vice president for administration and finance, told CT. “And as a Christian university, it’s something we want to do.”

Calvin is on a mission to be carbon neutral by 2057. The school got a little closer last month when it announced a partnership with the Indiana-based Sun FundED to come up with a plan to install solar arrays on university buildings, offsetting the high-carbon energy sources Calvin currently uses to heat, cool, and power the campus.

Solar panels on top of the buildings will be a visible sign to the Calvin community that they’re taking environmental concerns seriously, according to Fennema.

That sign is economically feasible because of advancements in the financing of renewable energy projects. Calvin won’t have to go into debt or ask donors to raise the funds for alternative energy. Sun FundED, a private company backed by venture capital, is a tax-equity investment. It will provide the solar power array to Calvin with no upfront costs and then leverage tax credits that aren’t available to the nonprofit educational institution.

“It allows us to do it on a larger scale on campus than we could have ever done by ourselves,” Fennema said. …

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