To combat climate change, Glen Ellyn couple helps fund solar projects

Glen Ellyn resident Jeff Jens can clearly recall the first time he realized solar power was the real deal.

On a cold November morning in the 80s, Jens put his hand over a vent cover in his father-in-law’s Colorado home, where he and his wife Ann Boisclair were visiting. Boisclair’s father had installed a crude solar panel system in the house, which heated up a reservoir of water in the basement and sent excess heat through that upstairs register.

“I was amazed,” Jens said. “I remember putting my hand up against the register and feeling the warm air come out. I realized this is for real. Solar power is for real. And it should be with us right now. Not anytime in the future.”

Fast forward three decades when the U.S. pulled out of the Paris Agreement — the leading international treaty on climate change — in 2017, Boisclair and Jens felt more than ever before that they had to do something in the fight against global warming.

“We've been concerned about climate change for a long time. ... We felt that we now had to do something much more than we had been attempting to do,” Jens said. “It's not an easy thing because there is no road map.”

The couple soon had the idea to contact Jens’ alma mater, Denison University, and offer seed money for a solar development. Though the university initially declined, they followed up months later with a proposal to install solar panels on a student housing building.

“We began to realize that what we could do, we wanted to be solar,” Jens said. “We realized by giving startup money to some entity that wants to do something but is still not financially committed, that if we provided that, it could happen.”

The couple has now supported 18 projects across the country, the majority in Illinois. With four still in progress, Jens estimates by the end of 2024, the developments will produce a total of 1,100,000 kW. The projects span a variety of groups, from churches to government organizations.

Currently retired, Jens previously worked as a lawyer and Boisclair as the quality manager at Elgin Mental Health Center.

“There are certain institutions out there that really do need just a nudge of some money — not all of it — but some money to get them over the hump so that they think, ‘OK, now it's financially feasible,’” Jens said.

The couple’s portfolio includes arrays at Boisclair’s alma mater and one on her parent’s church in Colorado. They also supported the panels on the Willowbrook Wildlife Center in Glen Ellyn, and their most recent project included a $50,000 check toward an array atop one of DuPage County’s buildings at the county complex in Wheaton.

Among specific projects, the couple also donates to a green energy assistance fund through environmental nonprofit Faith in Place, which works with communities of faith across Illinois, Indiana and Wisconsin to address sustainability issues. The fund goes toward solar panels and geothermal heating and cooling technology.

“It's really very helpful to have an ongoing relationship with Faith in Place, and that's something anybody could do,” Boisclair said. “Anybody could call them up and make a donation that is for environmental projects or specifically for solar. It doesn't have to be funding an entire project, it can be a small donation.”

Boisclair and Jens supported the funding of the solar array on Willowbrook Wildlife Center’s species recovery building. The system, installed in 2020, is projected to offset almost 30% of the wildlife center’s electrical demand. Forest Preserve District of DuPage County

Just like when he first felt solar-generated heat all those years ago, Jens said supporting solar projects is a tangible way to do their part to slow climate change.

“It's concrete. It's there. We can't emphasize enough that we don't want to talk about things. We want to do things. We want to get solar panels up, and solar can go almost anywhere,” he said.

Solar is also incredibly visible, Boisclair said. With thousands of people visiting places like Willowbrook Wildlife Center each year, the projects are effective as a sort of advertisement for renewable energy.

“You can see when solar is going up in your neighborhood, it seems people have obviously decided that it's viable and helpful. I think that's important,” Boisclair said. “We all know that we live in an increasingly electrified world, and it will continue to be more and more electrified. We have to think: ‘Where will that electricity come from?’ And solar panels are a wonderful place for it to come from.”

Boisclair, who has been concerned about climate change since 1969 when she first learned about it during a college lecture, added that funding solar projects is few and far between: Surprisingly often, the answer from some groups that the couple approach with an offer is “No, thank you.”

When they’re not searching for projects to help fund, Boisclair and Jens drive an electric vehicle, tend to their pollinator garden, practice vegetarianism and nurture small but important habitats like bringing their own bags to the grocery store.

“We aren't so wealthy that we can do a solar project every other day — even if that opportunity arose. We do have resources for which we're both very grateful, but they are limited,” she said. “All these things are things that help me with my (climate change) anxiety.”

• Jenny Whidden,, is a climate change and environment writer working with the Daily Herald through a partnership with Report For America supported by The Nature Conservancy. To help support her work with a tax-deductible donation, see

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