U.S. Energy Department launches "Clean Energy in Our Community" video series

July 18, 2012

WASHINGTON – Today, the U.S. Energy Department launched the "Clean Energy in Our Community" video series, which will feature small communities throughout the country that are striving to become more sustainable, are investing in the green economy, and are bringing the benefits of clean energy to local residents and workers.  The Energy Department kicked off the series with a video from Luther College that highlights how Decorah, Iowa is benefiting from the projects undertaken by the college to reduce their energy consumption and deploy clean, renewable energy projects campus-wide.

"'Clean Energy in Our Community' will highlight small communities around the country working to promote clean renewable energy initiatives and how our colleges and universities in particular play a critical role in shaping our communities and driving America’s clean energy economy," said U.S. Secretary of Energy Steven Chu. "Luther College and Decorah, Iowa, are great examples of how our local communities can help lead the way in making sure that America wins the global clean energy race."

Many community partnerships are emerging due to the American College & University Presidents' Climate Commitment. This commitment requires signatory colleges and universities to make sustainability a part of every student’s learning experience and to achieve carbon neutrality at some point in the future.  The program has had broad impacts not only on the college and university campuses involved, but also in the communities as a whole.

For example, the Luther College Board of Regents recently committed the school to cutting its carbon footprint in half by 2015 and to achieve carbon neutrality by 2030. Luther has already reduced its carbon footprint 22 percent through various energy efficiency initiatives. Now it is investing in clean renewable energy.  Last fall, Luther installed a 1.6 megawatt wind turbine.  This summer Luther established the largest zero-emission facility in Iowa by using a 280 KW solar field to power a 100 plus student residential housing complex that uses geothermal energy to heat and cool the facility. Luther has also created an Office of Sustainability that helps the college prioritize projects to meet its goals.

"To work toward carbon neutrality, the college will evaluate additional major initiatives, including investments in LED lighting technology, centralized or decentralized cogeneration of electricity and heat, as well as more use of solar thermal and solar electric technologies," President Torgerson said. "Advances in new technologies, coupled with conservation initiatives, will play a major role in achieving these ambitious goals."

The wider community has embraced Luther’s investments in energy efficiency and renewable energy.  The City of Decorah only has a population of 8,000 people but many residents, businesses and non-profit institutions have been taking steps to make the community more sustainable. The city has three Energy Star Certified Buildings and several others may soon become certified. In addition, the recently created Winneshiek Energy District has helped area residents invest more than $1 million in energy efficiency programs over the past two years. 

The Energy Department is committed to supporting communities like Decorah as they invest in clean renewable energy that reduces carbon pollution, creates local jobs and helps to drive local economies. This series will help connect and feature our small communities nationwide that are investing in clean energy and playing a role in making sure the United States leads the world in the global race for the green jobs of the future.

While the video focuses largely on Luther's initiatives with regard to energy there are many other things happening in the Decorah area that are moving the community down a more energy efficient path.

City of Decorah

On April 6, 2007 the members of the Decorah City Council unanimously authorized the mayor to sign the U.S. Mayors Climate Protection Agreement. Decorah is one of only 34 cities in Iowa to sign the agreement. 

Various prior initiatives paved the way for this commitment, including a decision in November 2004 to install LED traffic signals throughout the city. This initiative was completed under a Performance Edge contract with Alliant Energy and is saving approximately 130,352 kWh per year. 

Shortly after signing the U.S. Mayors Climate Protection Agreement, the city completed a comprehensive inventory of its greenhouse gas emissions with the assistance of a Luther College intern. In addition, Alliant Energy performed a comprehensive energy audit of city-owned facilities. 

These sources of information have enabled the City of Decorah to identify and prioritize a variety of energy efficiency investments. For example, new variable speed pumps have been installed in the city’s water production, distribution and sewer collection systems. 

In addition, several initiatives have been taken at the city's wastewater treatment plant.  Variable output electronic ballasts have been added to the new ultra violet disinfection system to save on electrical costs. A much smaller and more efficient motor was installed recently as part of a new sludge thickening process. The plant also now uses recovered methane for heating the facility.

The Decorah City Council's recently revised comprehensive plan "encourages clean and renewable energy use and increased energy efficiency wherever possible in both public and private development." This change was due in part to the "Sustainable Decorah Strategic Plan" that was developed by local residents and accepted by the City Council in October 2010. 

Decorah Schools

The Decorah School District has also made major investments in energy efficiency.  It has received rebates from Alliant Energy for energy efficient lighting in the district offices, an elementary school and an early childhood center. 

The Decorah Middle School, constructed in 2006, contains high-efficiency lighting and windows, substantial insulation and an energy management system with direct digital controls. 

Currently underway is a major $18-20 million remodel of the high school that will use geothermal energy to heat and cool the school. The school is also receiving new windows, doors, insulation and energy efficient lighting. 

In addition, the high school hosts a nine panel solar photovoltaic array that was funded in part by the National Center for Appropriate Technology and by a grant from Alliant Energy.

Decorah Bank & Trust

In 2007 a local bank, Decorah Bank & Trust, hired a Luther College student to help measure the bank's carbon footprint. 

In 2008 the bank received Energy Star certification by the federal Environmental Protection Agency (EPA) for its new building in Decorah.  It joins the JC Penney store and the Oneota Food Coop in Decorah, which have also received EPA Energy Star certification. 

Since then Decorah Bank & Trust has installed solar panels on the roof of their building and on the drive-up teller window.  It has also installed LED lighting throughout much of the bank and is leading an effort among local businesses to pool LED lighting orders. 

Winneshiek Medical Center

After observing the success Luther College had when it invested $1.5 million in energy efficiency via an energy services contract with Alliant Energy, the Winneshiek Medical Center invested approximately $700,000 in various energy efficiency initiatives in 2009. 

The hospital received a major grant from the State of Iowa Energy Program as well as a rebate from Alliant Energy for this work. The hospital expects a 5-6 year payback with annual savings estimated at over $116,000.

Northeast Iowa Community College (NICC)

Located ten miles from Decorah in Calmar, Iowa, Northeast Iowa Community College has also undertaken several energy-related initiatives. 

The college's recent $7 million remodel of the student union included new energy-efficient windows, lighting and other features.

The college also recently started a new wind turbine technician training program to serve the growing wind energy industry in the state.

NICC implemented a Green Industries and Careers training program as part of their continuing education program.  Hundreds have received professional and technical skills via training in energy auditing, weatherization, green building and renewable energy services.

Winneshiek Energy District

In 2010 the Winneshiek Energy District was established to help the residents of Decorah and all of Winneshiek County make investments in energy efficiency and renewable energy through quality energy auditing and holistic energy planning. 

The district was formed after a series of meetings between Luther College faculty, staff and local business leaders. It is modeled after the soil and water conservation districts found in almost every county in the nation.

In its first 18 months the Winneshiek Energy District has helped more than 200 households and 50 area businesses invest approximately $1 million in energy efficiency technology that will result in over $3 million in energy savings.  

These investments have involved dozens of contractors, created 15-20 near-term jobs, and should support 20-30 long-term jobs due to the cumulative impacts of the long-term energy savings, which will be recycled in Decorah and Winneshiek County.

The Winneshiek Energy District has engaged thousands in the community through weatherization workshops, school programs, Bike to Work Week, the Open Streets celebration, contractor luncheons and more.

The district has worked closely with the Decorah Chamber of Commerce to establish a Green Business Council and the Green Business Challenge, which helps area businesses track their energy consumption and related greenhouse gas emissions.

The district's Oneota Tags program is the largest carbon offset program in the Midwest.  Revenues from the sale of the offsets are reinvested directly into residential energy efficiency projects in the area.

Two Luther College professors are members of the board, and several Luther students and recent graduates have either interned or worked for the Winneshiek Energy District.

This summer the district is involved with a large home remodeling project designed to convert the home into a zero emissions residence through the use of aggressive insulation, passive solar design, an energy-efficient air-to-air heat pump and solar photovoltaic technology.

Other Energy Initiatives

Several congregations have made investments in energy efficiency, and four have worked directly with the Winneshiek Energy District to do so. As a result, Good Shepherd Lutheran Church and First Lutheran Church in Decorah both have a 96 EPA Energy Star rating, which means they are more energy efficient than 96 percent of all other houses of worship in the United States.

Some homeowners have also installed small renewable energy systems on or near their homes. A few have recently benefited from a rebate Alliant Energy offers for qualifying homeowners. Those served by Hawkeye REC outside Decorah are benefitting from a new net-metering arrangement that makes the financing of small solar and wind projects more affordable.

Transportation-related initiatives include the 12-mile-long biking and walking trail that will soon circle the City of Decorah as well as the construction of new bike lanes on major thoroughfares throughout the city.

All of these activities are not only having individual and cumulative impacts but are changing norms and expectations about energy in the community. Over time a new energy ethic is emerging that will make Decorah and Winneshiek County more sustainable communities.