Decorah Bank and Trust: A key partner for Energy Efficiency

By: Briana Burke, Green Iowa AmeriCorps

NE Iowa’s Energy-Efficiency Triad

In 2017 an estimated 66.7% to 86% of energy production in the United States was wasted (Lawrence Livermore National Laboratory, 2017). In a time when we are facing a climate crisis, we are not only the single largest per-capita producers of greenhouse gas emissions that drive climate change, but well over half of our emissions end up in the atmosphere simply due to our inefficient system. Wisdom of the old adage “waste not, want not” seems to have been forgotten when it comes to our energy system. Thankfully, here in NE Iowa, we have individuals and organizations dedicated to making communities prosperous and resilient through energy efficiency.

In 2010 when the Winneshiek Energy District (WED) began to pave the way for local, clean energy in our county, when Green Iowa AmeriCorps (GIA) began to offer home energy assessments for Iowans, and when Decorah Bank and Trust decided they wanted to run their bank without emitting harmful CO2 emissions into our atmosphere, an auspicious partnership with a mission of making NE Iowa more energy efficient was born. In the past 9 years, Northeast Iowa communities have benefited greatly from this energy efficiency triad. Over 1000 homes have received WED/GIA First Step Home Energy Efficiency service and simple improvements. Thanks to program partners, priority populations have received the service provided free of charge, resulting in community members saving over $134,000 on utility bills, and the atmosphere has been spared 9120 tons of CO2 emissions that contribute to climate change.

Decorah Bank and Trust: Achieving Net-zero CO2 through Oneota Tags

When Green Iowa AmeriCorps does a home energy assessment, its services are free of charge for low to moderate-income households, the disabled, veterans, and the elderly. But the money still has to come from somewhere. This is where Decorah Bank and Trust’s dedication to becoming net carbon neutral is so important.

“Over 10 years ago, the bank determined one of its core values is to “be kind to mother Earth,” says Joe Grimstad.

In 2009, the bank calculated that it emits 814 metric tons of CO2 annually. To decrease this number it installed all LED lighting, which cut energy demand for lighting in half. The bank purchased renewable energy from Luther’s solar panels and installed approximately 133.4 kW of solar panels between its Decorah and Cresco locations. All of this work has brought its 2018 carbon footprint down to 437 metric tons of carbon annually despite expansions of buildings and staff. These steps have directly saved approximately 4075 tons of carbon since 2009. This is the equivalent to taking 865 passenger vehicles off the road for a year, or the amount of CO2 4,796 acres of forests absorb each year (EPA GHG calculator, 2018).

While Decorah Bank and Trust is working to bring 437 tons to 0 with more solar installations, it also invests in Oneota Tags and expects to reach net-zero carbon footprint in 2019. Oneota tags are not literal tags like those that come on clothing. They represent a ton of carbon emission reduction available through the Energy District’s local carbon market. An individual or company, such as Decorah Bank and Trust, can calculate how many tons of carbon they emit each year, and buy the corresponding number of Oneota Tags (each tag is worth one ton of CO2) that will prevent an equal amount of CO2 from being produced. This allows businesses and people who are not able to reduce their CO2 emissions to 0 to balance out their emissions by paying to have CO2 not produced where it otherwise would have been.

In this case, the “would have been” of CO2 emissions is home energy inefficiency in northeast Iowa. The Winneshiek Energy District calculates that it costs Green Iowa AmeriCorps $30 to reduce a home’s carbon emissions by one ton; that is the price of one Oneota Tag. Decorah Bank and Trust’s mission of being net carbon neutral not only a win for the bank and the planet, but also a win for the community by investing in Oneota Tags and therefore sponsoring free of charge home energy services. This makes the service free to priority populations who need it most: low-moderate income, disabled, elderly, and veterans. After the team’s assessment and diagnostics, direct installation, and air sealing, most homes see an energy savings of approximately $120 annually.

An Efficient Future for NE Iowa Includes You

The partnership between Green Iowa AmeriCorps, the Winneshiek Energy District, and Decorah Bank and trust has truly benefited our communities over the past 9 years, but how much can home energy efficiency really save NE Iowa? And what precedence has Decorah Bank and Trust set for us to become net carbon neutral?

Let’s do the math. Our Green Iowa AmeriCorps team serves 5 counties in NEIA that have an approximate total of 35,410 households (Census Bureau ACS 5yr Estimate, 2017). They have already served 1,050 homes, leaving 34,360 households to be served. A Green Iowa AmeriCorps home energy efficiency program saves the average household just over $120 annually with the simple measures such as lights and water – every home has even much greater “deep efficiency” opportunities as well. That means that NE Iowa is throwing $3,436,000 out the window every year to home energy inefficiencies that could be solved easily with a “First Step Home Energy Efficiency service and installation, and that is just the tip of the energy efficiency iceberg. Energy efficiency is not only important to the environment, but to local economies.

What can you do to help make NE Iowa more energy efficient? First, call the Decorah Green Iowa AmeriCorps team at (563)-382-4207 ext. 2 to schedule an assessment for your home or rental. Note: we are busy this time of year and are currently scheduling a few months out.  Second, calculate your carbon footprint. There are many online calculators that can be used to calculate a household’s footprint. Next, reduce your usage however makes sense. This may include weatherizing your home, driving a more fuel-efficient car, or buying more local produce. Next, invest in renewable energy whether that means installing it on your own roof, or buying it from somewhere else. Finally, purchase Oneota Tags to cover whatever CO2 emissions you are still producing to balance out your emissions, and to help a neighbor save money on their electric and utility bills while you’re at it.

For a resilient and prosperous future, NE Iowa needs people, organizations, and companies who are dedicated to “green” solutions such as home energy efficiency. A truly “green” solution is good for the planet, good for people, and good for our economy. The Green Iowa AmeriCorps, Winneshiek Energy District, and Decorah Bank partnership has shown us that this is possible in our communities through partnership and dedication.

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