Small town energy and economic visions

By Robert and Sonia Vogl
President and Vice President, Illinois Renewable Energy Association

Communities throughout the country are discovering the economic advantages of using energy wisely.

The city of Bloomfield, Iowa, has set a goal to be energy independent by 2030. Currently the city, like so many other rural cities, purchases all of its electricity from external sources. Bloomfield ‘s vision is to create a new foundation for prosperity through local energy innovation. Developing local energy sources will not only save residents money, it is the basis of their economic development plan.

Chris Ball, the Energy Efficiency Director or Bloomfield, revealed during his keynote presentation at the Fourteenth Annual Renewable Energy and Sustainability Fair how a small, rural town took on such a bold goal by taking small steps in the right direction, gradually wading into energy independence. Some fortuitous events, including Bloomfield’s participation in a Rocky Mountain Institute workshop helped the town leaders gain confidence in the new venture. In some cases, energy was a surprising, but welcome side benefit of other local improvements. For example, rebuilding crumbling sidewalks provided an opportunity to replace power lines.

The project continues to expand. Seniors from Iowa State University’s department of electrical and computer engineering plan to study the City of Bloomfield’s grid and its ability to support distributed energy generation sources.

Ball recognizes that their program is one of gradual changes. Bob Dixson, Mayor of Greensburg, Kansas, keynoter for last year’s Fair, shared how his town, ninety-five percent demolished by a tornado in 2007, seized disaster to rebuild. It is now an outstanding example of renewable energy sources and green building. Town leaders travel to share their experiences with others to inspire them to rebuild their own communities.

Economic development projects in other areas, rather than depending on the usual exchange of tourists, are discovering the advantages of effective energy management. Through energy challenges and requirements, energy efficiency is becoming recognized as a valid development tool. The EPA recognized Woodville, Alabama, for achieving its energy reductions. Large cities can also benefit. Salt Lake City’s Mayor’s Skyline Challenge, a competition to meet and exceed energy saving and air quality goals, has resulted in tremendous progress in energy efficiency. The program provides both information and tools for creating energy plans.

Atlanta’s new energy requirements are expected to create 100 jobs a year for the first several years and significantly reduce carbon emissions while meeting the goal of reducing commercial building energy consumption 20 percent by 2030.

Plans can be large or small. MidAmerican Energy Company will replace over 100,000 Sioux City, Iowa, street lights that it owns with LEDs. The City of Sioux City will convert city owned lights.

Sauk County, Wisconsin, is considering accepting proposals from installers to add solar electric panels to county buildings. Third-party investment will not involve any taxpayer money but will save on county energy bills. Buildings initially include the Baraboo Jail, a county run nursing home and the County Highway Department facility.

Cities and towns, especially small towns, can be revitalized by following the lead of those who boldly moved toward energy progress.

Major sponsors of the Fair were the Illinois Clean Energy Community Foundation, The Rock River Times and the Ogle County Solid Waste Management Department.

Reach the Vogls at sonia@essex1.com.

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