Transforming the Community: Winneshiek Energy District

By: David Paquette, Winneshiek Energy District

At the Winneshiek Energy District, when asked, “What do you do?” we often reply with something like “serve customers and transform community.”

The Energy District formed in 2009 out of a series of coffee shop conversations and is modeled after the Soil and Water Conservation Districts, which grew out of the Dust Bowl Era and into nearly every county in every state.

Soil and Water Conservation Districts formed the missing link in the conservation delivery system. They provide the necessary local leadership and a structure for conservation planning and community mobilization. Today, we have a similar missing link when it comes to energy. As the first Energy District in the country, we believe energy planning with customers and community mobilization with local partners can ramp up the transition to a stronger local economy and more stable climate for our kids.

Serving customers and transforming community are the operative words here, and it’s here that the Energy District feels a great affinity to the Oneota Community Food Co-op. There are many businesses that base their operational structure purely around the profit from sales. The Oneota Co-op is more than that. It serves its members well through the supply of quality food and at the same time extends its reach into many aspects of community enrichment. It’s about customers and it’s about community.

Though structured as non-profit and not a cooperative, the Energy District draws many parallels in this “serving customers, transforming community” approach. The Energy District is here to help homeowners, tenants, businesses, farmers, institutions and the like – in Winneshiek County – save money, improve indoor comfort and air quality, and decrease climate impact through energy planning. Equally fundamental to our mission are the development and facilitation of projects and partnerships that build a local movement toward local energy independence and sustainability.

Much has been accomplished at the Energy District since the summer of 2010. In two short years, we have quickly grown into our role as the go-to place for energy questions from households and businesses throughout Winneshiek County.  We’ve helped facilitate a Decorah sustainability plan, green business council, and have achieved remarkable energy efficiency improvements in hundreds of local homes and businesses. These and other accomplishments have resulted in the retention of millions of energy dollars that would have otherwise left our local economy. Additionally, our work has directly prevented more than 5,000 tons of greenhouse gas emissions from being released into the atmosphere.

Compared to what is ultimately possible, these are just the first baby steps. With the economic, energy and environmental changes set to come (or here already?), there are many new goals and challenges to meet. The Energy District is here to help facilitate a sustainable, countywide energy transition.

We have pioneered two high-impact and very effective energy planning programs: Direct Install and Home Energy Planning. From the simplest lighting and water improvements to in-depth diagnostics and analysis to renewable energy, Winneshiek is now the only county in Iowa that offers high-quality affordable direct installs and energy planning services to ALL households in the county. We’re also working towards a new and improved commercial and agricultural energy planning program in 2013.

The Energy District is also pleased to offer carbon offsets, a first-of-its-kind program in the Midwest. Oneota Tag Carbon Offsets provide the opportunity for purchasers of carbon offsets to keep their dollars local and invested in furthering sustainable energy right here in Winneshiek County.

Communities that work together, at all levels, make tremendous strides that no individual community member or consumer can make alone. The Energy District helps transform the community. We are here to facilitate the collaborative efforts throughout our county as well as the many efforts of individuals that are dedicated to a sustainable energy future and healthier world for our kids.
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