An aerial view of the solar panels at Transitions, a nonprofit that works to end poverty and homelessness for women and children in Spokane.

Gonzaga Sustainable Energy (GSE) has partnered with RE-volv, a climate justice nonprofit, to bring solar power to nonprofits in Spokane. 

Around 1.5 million nonprofits in the U.S. face significant barriers to getting solar projects financed because nonprofits cannot access traditional solar financing, according to the RE-volv website

“The reason why RE-volv focuses on nonprofits is that nonprofits don’t get that tax incentive for having solar on their buildings that normal people do,” said GSE President Theo Labay. “If you install solar on your home, you get a certain tax deduction by having solar and also get certain benefits from utility for that too, and nonprofits don’t get that.”

RE-volv works to address those barriers by providing an innovative solution to solar financing for nonprofits in low-to-moderate income communities, BIPOC communities and areas of the U.S. where solar power is less prevalent.

They train volunteer college students and community members across the U.S. to identify small to medium sized nonprofits in the community that could benefit from solar energy. This is where GSE comes in.

GSE participates in RE-volv’s Solar Ambassador program, a yearlong fellowship for college students to work together in teams to bring solar energy to a local nonprofit. RE-volv provides educational training on solar energy, and then Solar Ambassadors identify a nonprofit in their community that has demonstrated a track record of serving their community, owns their building or has a long-term lease and has a roof in good shape.

GSE chose Transitions, a nonprofit that works to end poverty and homelessness for women and children in Spokane.

The process begins when the nonprofit signs up for a free energy quote. From there, RE-volv works with local solar installers to determine the appropriate solar system. RE-volv covers all the upfront costs, installs the solar panels and provides all the maintenance for the system. This allows nonprofits to save about 15% on their electricity bills, according to the RE-volv website.

“Since energy cost is a lot lower, that money that they’re saving can be put towards their own programs,” said Jess Vazquez, one of the vice presidents of GSE and designated coordinator with RE-volv. “They become more sufficient and not as dependent on raising money for just bills. They spend more on people.”

Through a solar lease or power purchase agreement, the nonprofits pay back RE-volv. These payments are then invested in the Solar Seed Fund, which helps pay for the next nonprofit’s solar system. At the end of the lease, at no cost, RE-volv transfers the ownership of the solar system to the nonprofit.

“They want to make a revolving system so that eventually they won’t ever have to have an investor in the system to help pay those upfront costs.” Vazquez said. “It'll be kind of like nonprofits giving back to the next nonprofit.”

After the 20-year solar lease, Transitions will own its system. The switch to clean energy will prevent more than 2,050,000 pounds of emission from entering the atmosphere, according to the RE-volv website.

Additionally, Transitions will save more than $116,000 through the process. This allows it to reinvest this money into services for women experiencing homelessness and trauma, as well as provide additional housing options for women and children experiencing homelessness.

According to Labay, this partnership aligns with GSE’s mission for social justice and energy equity.

“[GSE] also [does] a lot of focus on energy equity, especially around sustainable energy," Labay said. "This was a really good project because it was not only reaching out to the community in the area, but also how to deal with solar. We got that experience with sustainable energy, and energy equity in the Spokane community.” 

So far, RE-volv has funded 46 solar projects, saving $18.7 million for nonprofits and avoiding 91,000 tons of carbon dioxide from entering the atmosphere. 

GU is the first university in Washington state to partner with RE-volv, making Transitions the first nonprofit in Washington state to participate in the process. 

A ribbon cutting event is set to take place at the end of January. The public is invited to attend and celebrate the leadership of GU students, the important work being done by Transitions and the newest addition of clean, renewable energy in Spokane.

Claire Tollan is a staff writer. Follow her on Twitter: @clairetollan.

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