The Winneshiek Energy District in NE Iowa, like the Soil and Water Conservation Districts that grew out of the crisis of the Great Dust Bowl, was formed to create a locally-led energy delivery system that helps and inspires people to make cost-effective and easy behavioral changes. The aim of the District is to make energy transitioning happen quickly in order to reduce greenhouse gases, improve local economies, and create sustainable energy societies.
Founded in 2010, the Winneshiek Energy District provides in-depth audits to businesses and homes, performs extensive follow-through and cost-share for making energy improvements, and sells Oneota-Tags: carbon offsets that can be purchased to fund additional efficiencies made by the Energy District. The Winneshiek Energy District is now using ENERGY STAR tools such as Portfolio Manager to track energy use and publications to educate its constituents.
Winneshiek has a commercial program, a residential program, and a carbon offset program. The Energy District currently has 47 businesses engaged in their Commercial Energy Planning program. This program provides technical assistance to business to make cost-effective energy improvements. The District funds up to one third of the total costs or up to $5,000 per building on top of utility rebates and other incentives, through federal stimulus funding. Participating businesses start by having a comprehensive energy audit that includes diagnostics and an analysis of all energy sources and uses based on 12 months of real energy data. The audit includes a financial analysis to arrive at payback figures and a prioritized list of cost-effective improvement practices. Once the owner receives the audit, they work with District staff to create an energy improvement plan using ENERGY STAR informational resources.
The District has partnered with area natural gas provider, Blackhills Energy, to provide the audit and reduce costs to the businesses. Early results from the Commercial Cost-Share show substantial energy savings. In the small community of Decorah enrollment is exceeding 50 businesses. Over 80% of those receiving audits will proceed to make major investments in energy improvements.
Complementing the Cost-Share program is the Green Business Challenge which encourages businesses around the county to track energy use utilizing the ENERGY STAR Portfolio Manager. To enter the Green Business Challenge, a business had to obtain last 12 plus months of electric and natural gas energy data and enter it into the Portfolio Manager. Winneshiek set up a master account so all challenge participants could share their data. The Energy District’s Green Business consultant assisted with obtaining energy information and entering the data.
The Decorah Area Chamber is one of the many organizations that is partnering with the Green Business Challenge. The Chamber created a Green Business Council to integrate green practices and encourage area businesses to become more green. Even after the initial Challenge, the Green Business Council will continue to encourage businesses to take next steps.
At the mid-point of the 6-month Green Business Challenge three businesses were awarded in-depth electrical energy audits from local energy consultant Smartgreen.com. This valuable audit provides key information for saving on electrical usage. And at the end of the Challenge, a Green Business Bash brought all of 40 participating businesses together to celebrate going green, to share best practices, and to provide an opportunity for press coverage of their accomplishments.
“We entered our data in EPA’s ENERGY STAR Portfolio Manager tool because we want to see how we compare to other banks around the US for energy consumption. Decorah Bank and Trust strives to lower its energy costs and carbon footprint in order to improve profits and be a good steward of the environment for the future,” Joe Grimstad, Decorah Bank and Trust enrolled in the Green Business Challenge.
In addition to the work with commercial properties, Winneshiek has some residential programs as well. The Residential Direct-Install with Green Iowa AmeriCorps has the Winneshiek Energy District hosting AmeriCorps members who provide homeowners with low cost, high return energy-saving services that are made quickly to reduce household utility expenses to address “low-hanging fruit”. Since beginning in 2010, the Direct Install program has reduced homeowners’ average annual utility bill by $189.
Another program on the Energy District which focuses on energy efficiency is the Oneota Tag Offsets program—the first entirely local carbon offset program in Iowa. Proceeds from the sale of Oneota Tag local offsets go towards purchasing "simple direct-install" supplies such as efficient light bulbs. Through Direct-install of home energy efficiencies, Oneota Tags have reduced over 233 tons of CO2 and equivalent greenhouse gases over the first year of the program. The Winneshiek Energy District has sold $6,700 in Oneota Tags since September 2010.