Since its inception three years ago, the Winneshiek Energy District (WED) has helped more than 500 homes and 68 businesses save money through energy efficiency.
At last Monday's meeting of the Winneshiek County Board of Supervisors, WED Board President Jim Martin-Schramm updated the Board on his organization's accomplishments over the past three years.
Established in 2010, the WED is a local, non-profit organization dedicated to promoting energy stewardship and sustainability in Winneshiek County. The WED focuses on "all things energy," with all individuals and organizations willing to partner, as far as WED's time, energy and funding allows.
Its published mission is "to stimulate economic growth and reduce greenhouse gas emissions by helping residents and businesses of Winneshiek County reduce energy consumption, save money and invest in locally owned, renewable energy systems."
Martin-Schramm explained that $75 million is spent on energy every year in Winneshiek County. He explained WED focuses on a three-pronged approach to energy sustainability, including energy planning, community engagement and public policy.
Martin-Schramm said in its first three years, WED has helped over 500 homes save money, thus increasing their expendable income, including more than 100 low-to-moderate income households.
In addition to coordinating energy efficiency improvement for 68 businesses, WED has helped six of those achieve EPA ENERGY STAR certification.
ENERGY STAR certified buildings and plants meet strict energy performance standards set by the Environmental Protection Agency (EPA). They use less energy, are less expensive to operate and cause fewer greenhouse gas emissions than their peers. Starting with the first ENERGY STAR certified building in 1999, tens of thousands of buildings and plants across America have already earned EPA's ENERGY STAR for superior energy performance.
Part of WED's community outreach has been to develop an interactive online map of solar energy systems installed in Winneshiek County, which can be seen at decorahsolarmap.com.
It has also established an annual Bike-to-Work Week, several Open Streets events, hosted monthly energy breakfasts and created an e-newsletter.
In addition, through its partnership with Green Iowa AmeriCorps, WED has contributed over 34,000 hours of community service.
Operated through the University of Northern Iowa's Center for Energy and Environmental Education, Green Iowa AmeriCorps is a community service program founded in 2009 to address conservation and sustainable usage of energy resources in several Iowa communities as they struggled to rebuild from the floods of 2008.
Martin-Schramm explained WED also "provided a local voice in the development of statewide energy policy to expand the work of Green Iowa AmeriCorps and increase local contractor representation in delivering efficiency programs throughout the state."
According to WED Director David Paquette, based on Department of Commerce studies, WED "conservatively estimates our facilitation has helped create or retain 15-20 jobs over this three-year time period. This work has also generated momentum in energy efficiency investments that will continue for years to come. Again using the Department of Commerce statistics, we conservatively estimate that the ED influenced the future creation or retention of 20-30 additional jobs as a result."
Over the next three years, the WED hopes to promote economic development and expand the reach of the Energy District through the following:
Growing local energy efficiency investment from $1 million to $3 million
Strengthening local, regional and state partnerships
Building a broad base of support through annual fund-raising campaigns and
Securing grant funding to help start Energy Districts in three more counties.
In addition, WED plans to expand its programs to help residents save money and reduce carbon emissions through the following goals:
Helping an additional 500 homes, including 150 low-to-moderate income households
Providing energy planning services for commercial and agricultural businesses
Partnering with Black Hills Energy, Alliant Energy and Hawkeye REC to provide energy planning
Collaborating with local contractors, real estate agencies and county development to promote Net-Zero (producing as much energy on an annual basis as one consumes on site through use of renewable energy sources) home construction and retrofits and
Helping to reduce greenhouse gas emissions produced in Winneshiek County by 25 percent.
Finally, Martin-Schramm said his organization would like to partner with local installers to promote the installation of 200 additional solar arrays, establish a community solar project, work to reduce barriers to installation of renewable energy systems, advocate for third-party power-purchase agreements and virtual net metering (a system in which solar panels or other renewable energy generators are connected to a public-utility power grid and surplus power is transferred onto the grid, allowing customers to offset the cost of power drawn from the utility) and assist the county with implementation of Iowa's energy code.
A growing movement
Martin-Schramm said he has been pleased with the number of individuals and businesses who have taken an interest and participated in WED's programs.
"It's not just all nuts-and-granola greenies," he said, citing solar installation projects at Decorah Veterinary Clinic and the home of Leon Bachelder.
"We think it is in the county's best interest to consume as much of their own energy as possible. We want to help people do that," said Martin-Schramm.
Following Martin-Schramm's presentation, Steve Knipe of Decorah quoted former Supervisor Bill Ibanez as predicting WED would eventually become freestanding and no longer a nonprofit.
"Continually you're asking for money from the city or county. I'm wondering when that's going to end?" asked Knight, adding if the WED is not planning to become self-sustaining, "We've all been misled by Mr. Ibanez."
Since its inception, the WED has received a total of $69,000 in low-to-moderate-income housing funding on the recommendation of the city's Low to Moderate Income (LMI) Housing Commission.
"We have not hidden anything from anybody," Martin-Schramm responded.
"The reality is the vast majority of current funding comes from private donations to us as a nonprofit entity. It is the case, that in the past we have come to ask for money ... I have not made that request today."
Martin-Schramm said he thinks the issue Ibanez was addressing with his comment was "How does WED exist after their federal grant funding disappears?"
"We would love to be a fee-for-service organization," said Martin-Schramm.
Decorah resident Steve Luse told Knipe, 'I'm not sure you can talk for the community ... As a community member, I paid a $125 assessment to install PV (photovoltaic solar panels) on my home. What they (WED) gave me (in terms of advice) for $125 was vastly superior to what I got from Alliant for $550," said Luse.
Following the meeting, Martin-Schramm said, "I appreciate the supervisors' willingness to let me give them an update about the accomplishments of the Winneshiek Energy District over the past three years, and to share with them our new three-year goals."
For more information, visit energydistrict.org.