What could you do with … one BILLION dollars?

Saving energy saves money. A new initiative involving 32 colleges and universities aims to demonstrate that in a big way.

The Billion Dollar Green Challenge aims to invest a total of — you guessed it — $1 billion that participating institutions will invest in energy efficiency measures. The projects will need to have payoffs of six years or less, and the schools will use the money they save on utility bills to repay the principal and interest on the loans. The money is then redeployed for new projects.

The effort has raised $65 million so far.

“We’re transforming energy efficiency upgrades from perceived expenses to high-return investment opportunities,” said Mark Orlowski, executive director of the Sustainable Endowments Institute, in a news release.

The savings can be substantial. The University of Minnesota, which is the largest Midwest school in the program, has cut its energy costs by $4.6 million a year through efficiency efforts. Other regional schools participating are: Bethany College in Lindsborg, Kansas; Denison University in Granville, Ohio; Edgewood College in Madison, Wisconsin; Northland College in Ashland, Wisconsin; and Western Michigan University in Kalamazoo.

Ken is the director of the Energy News Network at Fresh Energy and is a founding editor of both Midwest Energy News and Southeast Energy News. Prior to joining Fresh Energy, he was the managing editor for online news at Minnesota Public Radio. He started his journalism career in 2002 as a copy editor for the Duluth News Tribune before spending five years at the Spokesman-Review in Spokane, Washington, where he worked as a copy editor, online producer, features editor and night city editor. A Nebraska native, Ken has a bachelor's degree from the University of Nebraska-Lincoln and a master's degree from the University of Oregon. He is a member of the Society of Professional Journalists and Investigative Reporters and Editors.

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