The Winneshiek Energy District (WED) is leading the way in its field, based on statistics accumulated since its inception two years ago.

WED Director Andy Johnson of Decorah updated the Decorah City Council on his organization's accomplishments in July. WED, a nonprofit corporation, is scheduled to request the second allotment of funding it receives from the city during the Council's meeting Monday night.

In March, the Council voted to allocate up to $48,000 in tax increment financing (TIF)/low-to- moderate income (LMI) funds to WED. About 35 percent of the money generated in the TIF districts must be set aside for LMI projects in the city. WED received the first installment of $12,00 in May and was asked to report to the Council on its accomplishments after three months before another quarterly installment is made.



Federal stimulus

In the spring of 2010, the city of Decorah submitted a successful proposal for energy efficiency federal stimulus funding to the Energy Efficiency and Conservation Block Grant program for projects for the WED, in addition to separate projects for Luther College and First Lutheran Church. While that federal funding is ending, Johnson said his organization is ramping up to become even stronger and more effective.

WED implemented three programs in whole, or in part, using the federal funds: commercial energy planning and cost share, residential planning and cost share and residential "direct install" with Green Iowa AmeriCorps.



Many 'firsts'

Johnson said WED accomplishments in its first two years are significant and include many "firsts":



• WED is the first energy district in the nation modeled after soil and water conservation districts and dedicated to a locally led sustainable energy transition through technical assistance, partnerships and community engagement.

"Our focus starts with the boots-on-the-ground, help-folks-get-it-done approach, and builds up from there," Johnson explained.

• WED is pioneering "holistic energy planning" that goes beyond a free energy audit. Energy planning also includes comprehensive diagnostics, modeling, financial analysis and plan development with the customer, Johnson explained.

"We don't just give a report, we say 'that's just the beginning, now let's make a plan and we'll help where necessary.' Holistic energy planning includes renewable energy, such as solar photovoltaics, in the process, and the ability to plan toward net-zero annual energy (homes produce as much energy as they produce) or emissions, if the customer desires," he said.

• WED has developed the first local carbon offset program in the Midwest the organization is aware of, which allows local citizens, businesses and organizations committed to lowering their carbon footprint to buy carbon offsets and have those dollars stay local - reinvested in energy efficiency in homes in Winneshiek County. Carbon offsets are a way for citizens to lower their carbon footprint by paying for emissions reductions somewhere else.

• WED has carried out the first successful "home performance" program in the state.

"The three large Iowa investor-owned utilities piloted Home Performance programs across the state, yet the WED's program right here in Decorah has achieved greater success than all those programs combined," Johnson said.

"One result of this success is a new partnership between the Energy District and Black Hills Energy to provide quality energy planning services for residential BHE customers in Decorah. We're very excited to work with Black Hills on this, and we urge everyone interested to contact us."



Programs

WED's three main programs have focused on energy-efficiency planning with households and businesses. On average, energy use in buildings can be reduced by more than 30-40 percent cost-effectively, Johnson said, with the savings paying for themselves within the practice's lifetime.

"The bulk of those savings even look good compared to stock market investments: simple payback of 1-10 years, or annual return of 7-70 percent ... not even factoring in the potentially higher future energy prices," Johnson said.

In WED's commercial energy planning program, more than 50 businesses completed projects. In residential energy planning, 65 homeowners completed projects, and the direct install program has reached more than 240 households.

"These programs have, combined, resulted in over $1 million being invested in energy improvements, involved dozens of contractors, and likely created 15-20 near-term jobs," Johnson said.

"These investments will yield roughly $3 million in energy savings for local families and businesses over time. That is $3 million that would otherwise have mostly left the local economy. Keeping it local will likely generate another 20-30 jobs as those savings reverberate through the local economy," he said.



Future

Energy planning with households, businesses and other partners will continue to be at the heart of WED's vision, Johnson said.

"We're very excited to now be able to offer home performance level energy planning to every household in the county at significantly reduced rates, including the ongoing partnership with the city of Decorah to use the TIF-LMI funds to provide energy services and especially 50 percent cost-share for cost-effective energy practices to LMI households in Decorah. We've already reached over 30 households with our Direct Install program and are ramping up the outreach to those interested in more comprehensive, high-dollar energy improvements," Johnson said.



Black Hills partnership a first

WED is the first local technical service provider to partner directly with Black Hills Energy in Iowa, Johnson said.

"We will be providing their basic free audits as well as home performance audits through a one-year pilot program to Black Hills' customers in Decorah. We're very excited about this partnership and hope to continue to show the state and Black Hills what can be accomplished through locally led partnerships," Johnson said.

Eventually, it's hoped the program will be available to Black Hills' customers throughout the county.

In addition, Johnson noted Hawkeye Rural Electric Cooperative now offers significant rebates to customers who receive "home performance" level audits WED can provide.

For households that don't qualify for other programs, WED will provide "home performance" level audits and an energy planning package at half market price, in order to provide all county residents the opportunity to understand and pursue cost-effective energy improvement, Johnson said.

In addition, WED is working toward providing in-house commercial and agricultural energy planning services in the near future.



Track record helps

WED Board President Jim Martin- Schramm of Decorah is proud of what the energy district has accomplished in a short period of time.

"Our track record has really earned us the opportunity to work in partnership with Black Hills Energy and earned us the respect needed to partner with the city of Decorah. We think we have excellent leadership and staff," Martin-Schramm said.

There is about a $75 million "drain on energy" in Winneshiek County - the amount spent annually on energy costs, almost all of which leaves the county, Johnson said.

The bulk of the outflow can be halted through energy efficiency and local renewable energy at a positive net value, Johnson said.

"The reason to have an energy district is precisely because in most counties in the U.S. an enormous amount of financial resources leave the county as we utilize energy to power our economy and our own lives ... anything we can do to be better stewards of those energy resources, and financial resources is to the benefit of those business and individuals in our communities," Martin-Schramm said.

Rural America is often considered the "fly-over" zone, he said.

"We're out here on our own. A better future depends on us figuring out how to live differently and cultivate a new energy ethic that enriches us rather than impoverishes us," Martin-Schramm said.

"I encourage everyone in Winneshiek County to make use of this incredible resource and programs available at WED. It is unique. I think it has real potential to improve the quality of life for people in our county."

Because Decorah sponsored the grant application for the federal stimulus funding, WED programs tied to those funds have only been available within the city of Decorah. The Winneshiek County Board of Supervisors was asked to sponsor the grant application, but the Board, at that time, declined, Martin-Schramm said.

However, WED's Direct Install program is available to anyone in the county.

"Our goal is to provide services throughout the county, not just within the city. That's our vision," Martin- Schramm said.