A state-financed experiment to test new ways to conserve electricity and water has survived one budget battle at the statehouse. Last year the cities of Woodbine and West Union received half a million dollars through the state’s “Greenstreets” program. West Union hopes to eventually test whether heated sidewalks can be an alternative to using sand, salt and manpower to clear ice and snow.
Representative Chuck Soderberg, a Republican from Le Mars, says that’s not a good use of tax dollars, or electricity. “The activity we’re talking about would actually put some underground pipes under the streets and the sidewalks and actually melt the ice and the snow from the streets,” Soderberg says. “I don’t think that’s an appropriate use of money to actually promote inefficient use of electricity.”
Representative Scott Raecker, a Republican from Urbandale, was harshly critical of the idea when the House debated the proposal earlier this week. “Pink slips are going to go out and teachers are going to lose their jobs, but today we’re going to decide that it’s important to pay for heated sidewalks and heated streets as part of an economic development package,” Raecker said.
But Representative Andrew Wenthe, a Democrat, says no money’s been spent on heated sidewalks and there are no plans to do so in the immediate future either as other projects are higher on the “do list.” “Looking at all sorts of comprehensive ways to become more energy efficient, to be more responsible about where their rainwater runs off to and the heated sidewalks is one part of their large project,” Wenthe says.
According to Wenthe, if the communities install heated sidewalks, the funding for those projects won’t come from the state as West Union and Woodbine have secured $4-million from private foundations and from federal grants. And Wenthe says heated sidewalks won’t be installed unless it makes sense.
“They wouldn’t be doing it if it wasn’t energy efficient in the net,” Wenthe says, “you know, if — in the overall — there’s a good return on investment for doing this.” Wenthe was born in West Union, one of the two communities that are participating in the “Greenstreets” program. He now lives in Hawkeye, but West Union is in his legislative district.