PRESS RELEASE – MARCH 8, 2020
Proponents of energy conservation and efficiency, dwelling improvements, solar generation, battery storage and electric vehicles as means to address climate change and promote the Vernon County economy are encouraged to join bi-weekly discussions taking place at the McIntosh Public Library in Viroqua. The next meeting will be held on March 13th at 12:30 pm, 205 South Rock Avenue.
Introduced by Viroqua solar business owner Alicia Leinberger, four, well-attended discussions have explored and expanded upon county-level energy planning initiatives taking place in Iowa and Wisconsin. In addition to citizen and organizational energy advocates one would expect, participation has included leadership of Vernon Electric Cooperative, representatives of county, city municipal governments and businesses eager to see energy related development expand in our county.
At the initial presentation, Joleen Janzen from Clayton County, Iowa remarked she did not expect such wide participation at the outset. She explained that the original inspiration for Energy Districts came from the Soil Conservation Services and Districts established through the 1930’s. As the Viroqua meeting was held only a dozen miles from the birthplace of Conservation Services contour farming techniques in Coon Valley, Jansen’s analogy enjoyed extra resonance.
To date, discussions have ranged from personal objectives, to defined energy projects, to broader environmental and economic commonalities and grant opportunities. Due to the diverse participation, utilities, electric customers, elected officials and businesses have been able to immediately detect which ideas and possibilities enjoy broad support and make note of ones with minimal and no cost. Solutions to cost-effectively reduce CO2 emissions associated with the use of grid-supplied electricity have included:
• To help curb unnecessary waste, enhance consumers’ abilities to see their electricity use in real time either by smartphone or on a wall-mounted display. Studies have shown that when users are able to compare their usage to average use, past use and current demands, the feedback improves awareness, habits and skills. As typical waste ranges from 13% to 50% for households, improving consumer awareness is a rapid and cost effective means to reduce use and CO2 emissions.
• Enlist experienced neighbor-volunteers to help home owners and businesses make, quick, low or no cost efficiency improvements in lighting, appliance and water uses. These improvements have great potential. In addition to significantly lowering electric and gas bills, they produce CO2 reductions equivalent to adding 2-5 solar panels.
• Some improvements do require additional funds. For these, the pain of paying off low interest loans can be lessened by going ahead and making the improvements while continuing normal payments on electric bills. Called, “On-Bill Financing;” the improvements cause actual billing to drop so the continued monthly payment is enabled to pay off the loan. This program will soon be introduced by Vernon Electric Cooperative and, depending on future collaborations, could be expanded to cover appliance, solar and possibly even battery storage improvements.
• Businesses, customers and government parties agree that more creative ways to accelerate the development of locally-owned, solar generation are a priority. Solar customer experiences show significant savings over time. Households and businesses hesitant to place solar, on-site, respond favorably to community solar. Opportunities to use federal tax credits, finding suitable locations and enlisting Vernon County businesses in the benefits are key planning factors.
• Some uses of fossil fuel can be switched to electric powering such as electric vehicles (EV’s). When solar or non-carbon electricity is used for EV charging, maximized CO2 emissions are realized. Restaurants, visitor centers and shopping areas offer ideal locations for solar powered vehicle charging. Panels can double to provide energy saving shade.
Discussions have brought an abundance of personal inventiveness and motivations. It seems this is our moment, our opportunity to improve upon inherited solutions, skills and habits.
In coming meetings, discussions will focus on organizational definitions such as bylaws, missions statements and board member representation. These considerations are essential for a non-profit organization, currently being called the Vernon County Energy District (VCED), to realize the diverse stakeholder collaboration required.
Of course, successful collaboration depends on careful listening. In these meetings, utilities who are accustomed to determining policies are working with electric customers and businesses. Our elected officials tasked with planning, creating supportive environments and measuring progress are provided key tools they currently lack.
We invite you to bring your ideas, your listening skills and volunteerism to help everyone make Vernon County’s energy future even brighter. For more information, contact Alan Buss at firstname.lastname@example.org