Energy District Over Half Way to $100K Goal, Appeals to Public in Local Fund Drive

Winneshiek Energy District is looking for a few good friends. “Make that a few hundred!” said Board member Jeni Grouws. “We’re super excited about what we’ve accomplished in our first two short years. We’re even more excited about what we can do going forward with tremendous community support through our first ever local fund drive.”

The organization is appealing to the public to sign up as “Friends” of the District and make a contribution. “Stop whatever you’re doing right now and go to” says David Paquette of the District. “You can learn more about good things happening or click straight through to contribute. Give at the highest level you can but please give. Hundreds of contributing “friends” will ensure this amazing community resource continues to grow and strengthen.”

The Energy District began its first local fund drive in mid-October, and as of mid-November was over $55,000 toward its $100,000 goal. “The response so far has been great”, according to Board president Jim Martin-Schramm, “we look forward now to seeing how many Friends we can get to sign on and build the movement. The money is important but equally critical is the level of community support and momentum we can build.”

Why is the Energy District conducting a local fund drive now? “Like most organizations, we started with grant funding” says the District’s Director Andy Johnson. “Asking people for money is never easy, but we feel that developing a strong local base of support is key to sustainable financial management, which for us is a three-legged stool. Grants will continue to play a role, and earning revenue from energy services is expected to grow, while the local support rounds out the picture.”

“We do still get asked ‘what do you really do’” says Johnson, “and given we’re an infant in organizational terms that’s pretty normal. One way to summarize our energy approach is ‘serving customers, transforming community’. Serving customers is all about providing high quality technical help and energy planning to customers at all levels – from households to businesses and even farms. We’ve served hundreds of households and dozens of businesses already. We have a robust residential program that continues in full force, and are planning further developing in commercial and agricultural work this coming year.

“Energy planning is so much more than auditing it’s hard to compare” says Joel Zook, lead residential planner with the District. “Through diagnostics and analysis, we’re able to prioritize the most cost-effective improvements, make a plan, and help folks move forward. We can even add solar assessment and “net zero” planning to the process. Energy planning is about saving lots of green, but also about comfort and other benefits, and it’s an approach we’re pioneering right here at the Energy District.

“Transforming community” refers to projects, partnerships, and engagement opportunities that bring people and organizations together to take big steps toward energy awareness or savings. Past or current examples include the District’s first-in-the-Midwest local carbon offset project, the Green Business Challenge with the Decorah Area Chamber of Commerce’s Green Business Council, Open Streets and Bike to Work Week.

Community level work in the planning phases is even more ambitious, potentially including working with local fleets on compressed natural gas vehicles, developing a community solar photovoltaic option, bringing agricultural methane to scale, and more. “Community level energy work is a bit like R&D (research and development) for industry – some opportunities may not come to fruition but others may have tremendous impact. It takes time to investigate and develop these opportunities and though the direct return may or may not be there for the Energy District, the community-wide benefit can be very significant.

Why do we need an effort like an Energy District at the local level? We spend somewhere in the neighborhood of $75 million on energy in Winneshiek County, according to Johnson, and the bulk of that leaves the county. “At least a quarter of that could be saved cost-effectively at *positive net present value*, while another very significant portion could be saved with cost-effective renewables. Altogether, that could function like an awfully large tax break that just keeps giving and growing year after year as energy prices rise.

The other big answer to the “Why, who cares” question, according to Johnson, is climate change. “We could be leaving our kids and grandkids with an ‘ecological debt’ with a greater negative impact on their lives than any current ‘fiscal debt’. We share the sentiment of New York Mayor and billionaire businessman Michael Bloomberg (majority owner of Bloomberg News and BusinessWeek), who says climate change is an issue of ethics and risk management. The potential risk is very large, and our efforts to avoid it must be equally large.

So with all that economic opportunity and climate risk, why doesn’t more get done? “How many of you readers have thought something like “I know I should do … “ this or that, like change light bulbs or get an energy audit or look into a more efficient car, or anything related to energy. It’s on everyone’s “should-do” list but not at the top of most people’s “honey-do” lists. It’s just not a top priority for most. The Energy District is here to help make energy priority at the customer and community level – but they need your help.

An energy economy heavily burdened by high energy costs, and a climate potentially spiraling out of control, are two burdens none of us want to leave to our kids and grandkids. The Winneshiek Energy District is committed to moving our community towards a more sustainable energy future – TOGETHER. And they’re asking you to go to today to join in.

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