Decorah native, Andy Johnson, says the idea was to go local with energy. “It’s not just about wind or solar — it’s also about energy efficiency — and the whole kit and caboodle of how we can keep energy dollars local. Use that, invest local, buy local sort of theory when it comes to energy because the energy world is changing fast. And that’s really what we’ve been working on,” Johnson says.
He says they’ve been successful in the last ten years. “We figure we’ve reached between 13 and 1,500 homes, farms and businesses directly,” Johnson says. “We’ve saved in energy efficiency just in households — most of these low-income households actually — over one-point-seven million in energy costs. The energy efficiency costs for farms and businesses are much larger than that.” He says the savings for farms and businesses from energy efficiency are $2.5 million.
Johnson says increasing solar use was not the main focus when they started — but it quickly caught on. “Winneshiek County now has over 350 locally-owned solar systems…representing an investment of about 18 million dollars and over 30 million dollars in wealth kept in the local pockets and the local economy and balance sheets. And those are some pretty big numbers,” Johnson says. “And we still consider that just the tip of the iceberg.”
He says there’s still a lot more that could be done with energy efficiency. He says efficiency is on everybody’s “to do” list but it is not the most important thing in the world even though people know they can save money. “And it really takes often times quality technical assistance to do the diagnostics and analysis and layout here are the real cost-effective opportunities,” Johnson says.
For example, he says people may think replacing windows increases efficiency — but he says it often doesn’t improve the energy efficiency enough to make it pay off. He says they are working to get more of that technical assistance to work within the district.
Johnson says they have started to reach another goal of the program. “We hoped that we could help other counties start similar things — and that is actually happening too — which is really gratifying,” he says. He says other counties with energy districts, or considering them, include: Allamakee, Dubuque, Linn, Jackson, Johnson Howard, Delaware, Polk.