Winneshiek County could be one of the first counties in the state to pursue a revolving loan fund for energy efficiency or renewable energy projects.

Representatives of the Iowa Energy Bank will be in Decorah today (Tuesday) at the invitation of the Winneshiek Energy District (WED). A state-sponsored low interest revolving loan program for public facilities, Iowa Energy Bank officials will discuss work they have been doing for years with public entities.

They also will discuss a new community approach for residential and small commercial businesses utilizing revolving loan funds or similar funding mechanisms. Fairfield is the only community in the state to develop such a program so far, according to WED Director Andy Johnson of Decorah.

He met with the Winneshiek County Board of Supervisors last week to update them on WED's accomplishments and to make them aware of the Iowa Energy Bank visit.

"We've done a fair amount of residential and commercial work - we've served more than 250 households and about 50 businesses, but what I'm really proud of is the high success and recognition we're receiving around the state in the level of energy planning we're providing - not just an audit, but high-level diagnostic tests and developing plans and follow through," Johnson said. "Our goal is to have the majority of those we work with make changes."

WED is a non-profit corporation formed in 2010 and provides commercial and residential energy planning and cost share. Working with the Green Iowa AmericCorps program, it also offers residential "direct install," which provides low cost, high return energy-saving services that can substantially reduce household utility expenses.



Public buildings

The Iowa Energy Bank representatives will be speaking today with local government and college officials regarding low-interest financing for energy efficiency projects in public buildings. Iowa Energy Bank works with local banks to provide the financing.

The program will be explained, and the Iowa Energy Bank officials could be asked to return to evaluate public buildings for possible projects, Johnson said.

Local lenders have been invited to a second meeting to discuss revolving loan funds or other approaches to providing low-interest financing for similar projects in the private sector.

"It's more of an open discussion of what model would work well here and who would be involved and how we should move forward ... it could be a revolving loan fund, or loan/loss guarantee. Iowa Energy Bank works with local banks to help them absorb some risk for lower interest or riskier credit," Johnson explained.

Supervisor John Logsdon asked where the "seed money" for a revolving loan would come from. Johnson said Iowa Energy Bank has funds to start a revolving loan fund.

Logsdon also asked what the status is of WED's funding.

WED, Luther College and First Lutheran Church were awarded a total of $750,000 in federal stimulus funding in 2010.

"We're transitioning. Like most non-profits, we're dependent, somewhat, on grants. We also are trying to transition off ... the big federal grant wasn't our only source, but a major source," Johnson explained.

He said financial stability is a goal for WED. The current annual operating budget is $200,000. While the organization will continue to seek grants, it's also embarking on a local fund drive, hoping to raise $100,000 per year for the next three years.

Johnson said WED is "working hard" to serve the entire county. He said he hopes to add a staff person to lead commercial and agriculture projects.

"There's a whole lot of potential there," he said.



Major employer

Supervisor Bill Ibanez predicted WED would become "freestanding."

"I view them as a small business; the potential is quite big. They could be considered a major employer, providing jobs in this new industry. I think this is a real good thing for Winneshiek County ... to generate additional revenue and taxes," he said.

According to Johnson, Winneshiek County spends an estimated $75 million annually on energy, and most of that money leaves the county.

"It's a big financial drain," he said.

That can be curbed through energy efficiency and local renewable energy, Johnson said.

Anyone interested in attending any of the Iowa Energy Bank sessions today should contact Johnson at the WED, energydistrict.org.