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County Energy Districts Blazing a Green Trail in Northeast Iowa
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County Energy Districts Blazing a Green Trail in Northeast Iowa

In 2013, the annual expense for electrical usage on Guttenberg city streetlights and major security lights was around $13,000. The City of Guttenberg began updating all fixtures, sensors, and bulbs that year with more energy efficient models, leading the way in Clayton County. “At last fiscal year, the expense was $4,060 – a savings of 68 percent,” reported Assistant City Manager Jamie Blume at the first quarterly breakfast of the Clayton County Energy District in Guttenberg.

About two dozen residents of Clayton County joined the gathering to learn more about energy districts from Andy Johnson, founder and executive director of the Winneshiek Energy District (WED). Johnson started the WED in 2010 as a grassroots non-profit organization dedicated to promoting stewardship and sustainability in Winneshiek County. This model has since spread to neighboring counties, including Howard and Clayton County, where the energy district was started in the fall of 2015.

An energy district is a locally-led organization that provides leadership for a clean, renewable energy transition. “Andy Jonson is the guru of energy districts. WED is the very first and Clayton County is the second, we believe, on the planet,” said Joleen Jansen, the coordinator of the Clayton County Energy District.

The energy world is changing really fast and all kinds of opportunities are opening up,” Johnson began, citing a trillion-dollar opportunity for energy savings nationwide. “Most of that opportunity has not been taken advantage of. We’ve known this for decades, but there’s been a missing link – the local boots on the ground that help people, farms, and businesses actually make those changes. Most folks don’t have a clue what their opportunities really are.”

The WED exists to bring that message to the area. The organization’s goal is to keep and invest 100 percent of Winneshiek County’s energy dollars locally and renewably by 2050, preserving a healthy environment and stable climate for youth. Currently, 60-85 percent of energy dollars are leaving the county. “If we could reverse that flow and keep more of those energy dollars local, that’s a big opportunity,” said Johnson.

Since its establishment, the WED has served over 1000 customers with technical assistance, including energy audits. Most of these have been residential, but several hundred customers have been business and farm owners assisted with comprehensive energy planning. Well over $10 million has been invested in clean energy in Winneshiek County in recent years. 

We started with one solar contractor in 2010 in all of Northeast Iowa. Now we have half a dozen in Winneshiek County and probably 8-10 in the area. All have had training, many through the community college, and are all out there driving the market and building the customer base,” Johnson said. He also reported that the WED is working with contractors, community colleges, and banks to show the value of investing in solar energy. “Banks are wrapping efficiency projects and solar systems into the mortgage now,” he said.  

Representatives from Fidelity Bank & Trust in Guttenberg attended the breakfast, as did representatives from Allamakee-Clayton Electric Cooperative and Alliant Energy

The Clayton County Energy District (CCED) has a seven-member board. Since it began less than two years ago, the group has hosted workshops on solar and LED benefits, raised awareness with a presence at county functions and community festivals, and reached out to area churches, nursing homes, and school districts to provide guidance in reducing energy bills. 

The CCED is planning a simple LED bulb swap throughout the county. The organization will purchase LED bulbs and will trade them for incandescents brought in by county residents. “It can really affect the economy if we just get people to switch out their light bulbs,” Jansen told listeners.

Clayton County residents are also eligible for free home energy audits. The Green Iowa Americorps assessment includes a blower door test to determine home tightness, a combustion zone safety test, and thermal imaging. For just the cost of supplies, the Americorps team will replace light bulbs, install aerators on sinks, low-flow shower heads, insulate the first six feet of pipes connected to the hot water heater, install a programmable thermostat, replace furnace filters, seal minor duct leaks and use caulk, foam, and weather stripping around leaky windows, floor boards, doors, and more. 

To date, 50 homes have utilized this service in Clayton County and nearly 1,000 light bulbs have been switched to LED. Over 31,000 kWh have been saved on lighting bills, $1110 has been saved on water bills, 45 tons or carbon reduction has occurred, and each household has saved about $127.

The typical cost of the program per household is $40-$200, and there is financial help available for low-income households. Veterans, the elderly and disabled receive all needed supplies for free. 

The goal is to turn that light bulb on in peoples’ brains,” said Jansen.

For more information about the CCED, visit

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  1. RovingPatrick
    These types of models should be celebrated widely. Congratulations.

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