The Winneshiek Energy District (WED) will receive a third quarterly payment of $12,000 in Decorah tax- increment-finance/low-to-moderate income funds to assist in energy- saving projects in the city.

The Decorah City Council approved the allocation on a 6-1 vote Monday night. Randy Schissel cast the only dissenting vote.

A group of local citizens formed WED two years ago to promote and implement sustainable energy. In March, on a 4-3 vote, the Council approved up to $48,000 in low to moderate income (LMI) funding to WED, allocated in four quarterly installments over a yearlong period.

About 35 percent of the money generated in the city's tax increment finance (TIF) districts must be set aside for LMI projects. WED is required to report its accomplishments to the Council every three months before each quarterly installment.

Craig Moser, chair of the city's TIF/LMI Board, said WED Director Andy Johnson and WED Board members Larry Grimstad and Jim Martin Schramm recently gave their quarterly report to the Board, which recommended the Council issue the third-quarter allocation to WED.

52 households

Moser reported WED has surpassed its goal of serving 50 households within the year of LMI funding. Fifty-two households have been served through the city/WED LMI program to date, he said.

Energy savings are outpacing program expenditures two to one, Moser added.

"That's a nice investment," he commented.

A new group of Green Iowa Americorps volunteers began working this fall, replacing the previous group that had been in Decorah for a year.

The new team conducted seven Decorah LMI "direct installs" in October. The program targets low-income households for installation of efficient lighting, showerheads, faucet aerators, sealing, thermostat programming and other projects.

The resulting total lifetime energy savings in the homes is estimated at $12,640 or $1,580 in the first year, Moser reported.

WED is also partnering with Black Hills Energy for larger improvements, such as new furnaces or boilers. LMI covers 50 percent of the cost, Moser said. WED helps participants cover the remaining 50 percent with utility rebates and/or Housing Trust funds.

Established by Upper Explorerland, the Northeast Iowa Regional Housing Trust Fund's goal is to develop, redevelop, rehabilitate and renovate single-family and/or multi-family owner-occupied and rental dwellings.

Four LMI cost-share projects have been undertaken in Decorah this quarter, according to the WED second-quarter report. Total annual energy savings of $20,000 ($1,100 the first year) is anticipated.

"Because these homes are smaller than the Decorah average, the savings represents 20-30 percent of the participants' annual energy bills. The city LMI 50 percent cost share is expected to leverage roughly $10,000 of utility and Housing Trust fund dollars," the report said.

Continued funding?

Council member Paul Wanless, who voted against the allocation of TIF/LMI funding for the past two quarters, said when the city sponsored the application for the grant that helped establish WED, the Council was told there would be no cost to the city. The grant funds have now been used.

"I understand, to keep going, you're going to need some help in the transition. Do you see an end of needing city participation?" Wanless asked the WED representatives at Monday's meeting.

Johnson said LMI funds are "not direct city dollars," they are generated from TIF projects to go toward LMI projects.

"WED will still be here whether LMI or city dollars are there. We will continue," Johnson said.

The WED director said it's difficult to accomplish major energy-saving projects in LMI households. With the 50 percent cost share provided through the city's LMI funding, leveraging Black Hills rebates or incentives, or Housing Trust funds, it makes the projects "doable."

Council member Julie Fischer said the WED programs give her "real hope for energy efficiency" across the country.

"To see it happening here in our town is one of the best things we have going ... The work the WED is doing here is exemplary and I am for it 100 percent. Thank you all for the work you're doing. You're also training young people to go out and do this wherever they go," she said.

Council member Rachel Vagts said she's pleased to see the city's LMI funds leveraging additional money for energy saving projects.

"This is one of the places we're directly targeting LMI in this community. It makes a lasting benefit for those on fixed incomes if you can help reduce that cost (of energy)," she said.