DREAM GREEN 1
The journey begins with a visit to the state capitol in Des Moines
Lynnae Hentzen: So much of what the core of sustainability is about are things that we already know. The term may be new but the values are not. Buying local: our grandparents did that. Using natural materials: they did that, too. Managing their resources: they knew how to do that. And so in those terms, I think if Iowa can just remember our past and utilize the values that we were raised on, we would shoot way ahead in terms of sustainability, because it is how we were raised and how we know how to do things.
Mayor Frank Cownie: We need to recognize what sustainable resources look like, how we use them, and plan for the future so that our kids, our grandkids, and our great grandkids have the same opportunities that we do, and to develop the newer resources that are renewables—the solar, the wind—so that Iowa, moving forward, is a sustainable place to live and to work. And I think that we have to be much more adaptable and make sure that we’re betting the future on renewables and not on the resource that is dwindling so quickly.
Monica Stone: Iowa really is a state in a unique position to be able to be a national leader when it comes to energy. The thing that we have available to us is: we have really smart people in Iowa, we have a great universities, we have a national lab at Iowa State University. We have a really hardworking group of people who understand, as you said, that a penny saved is a penny earned. So we can be the hub of what the next vision for energy is for the country, and we’re one of the few places that can.
Voiceover: Welcome to the Dream Green series with co-hosts Stuart Tanner and James Moore on solar-powered KRUU-FM—Iowans creating a greener tomorrow. Today, a journey of discovery across the state featuring innovators, cutting-edge projects and communities leading the way to an energy-independent and sustainable future. Visit our website at greeniowa.org.
James Moore: And this is James Moore with Stuart Tanner. We are driving on the way up to Des Moines. We got up bright and early to get to our very first interview in the Dream Green series. It’s with the mayor of Des Moines, Mayor Frank Cownie. We’re looking forward to that and several other interviews with the Office of Energy Independence and also with Lynnae Hentzen who has been the executive director of the Iowa Center on Sustainable Communities. We’re looking to find out what their vision is for a green Iowa to kick off the series and take us on this road of discovery to see what’s out here in this beautiful State of Iowa—and it is a beautiful day: blue sky, white clouds, beautiful green growing on both sides of the road, a very pleasant day for sure. And I will grab some comments from co-host Stuart Tanner. How are you doing, Stuart?
Stuart Tanner: Good morning. Yes, it is a bright and beautiful day and we’re up early for the start of the Dream Green series, and it’s so early it does feel a bit like a dream! But it is very green out there, lots of wooded areas and so on. It’s become a little bit flatter than where we’ve come from in Fairfield, but it’s still a little bit undulating, you could say—which is good.
So yes, we are on our way to do our first interviews for the Dream Green series to get a vision of people’s thinking for green initiatives in Iowa, starting in the city of Des Moines. And for me its something of an adventure. I think I’ve only been to Des Moines and Iowa City and Fairfield, so I really don’t know the state at all. Being a Brit, it’s going to be quite fascinating getting off the road, getting to see all these other towns, cities, and characters that are out there that are doing great things with green initiatives and energy-saving initiatives and so on. So, welcome to the series! We’re really happy to be underway.
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ST: Okay, well, we’re getting pretty close. It amazes me. You pull into a city like Des Moines and there are still not a lot of cars or people around. For a Brit it’s incredible, because if you pull in into a British city of this size it would be absolutely full of traffic and people everywhere. It take you ages to get to a building like this state capital. I don’t know where I’m going. Hopefully not the wrong way because, for me, I’m driving on the wrong side of the road! Being a Brit, everything is back to front. But as the Japanese say, the reverse side always has a reverse side. Now we need a parking space, James.
JM: We’re right between the state capital and city hall here in downtown Des Moines. We’ll be back with you shortly; don't go anywhere don't touch that dial. You’re listening to solar-powered KRUU-FM, home of the first and only solar-powered radio station in the Midwest. Our Dream Green series is coming at you strong on the road from Des Moines, Iowa, and I’m James Moore.
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JM: We have arrived at city hall here in Des Moines. Joining Stuart and me is Mayor Frank Cownie, and we are just delighted to be able to speak with him about his perspectives on green issues. Mayor Cownie has been the mayor of Des Moines since 2003. He is a Des Moines native. His business, Cownie Furs, is a business that has been in the family for generations. We've heard great things about Mayor Cownie and his efforts in these regards. Mayor, good to see you. How are you doing today?
Mayor Frank Cownie: Good morning. Welcome to Des Moines.
JM: I want to start looking at where we are. I know when you started here in Des Moines with your first term as mayor in 2003, things were kind of different. Would you mind going into that?
FC: Different is a great way to phrase it. I think that there were those out there—whether they were architects or engineers or builders or neighbors or other politicians—who thought that I was way down the road less traveled, kind of a green nutball. But it's been a really informative, innovative, transitional journey that we have gone through over the last 8 years. Our city department heads were pretty reluctant at first. When you have some guys that had been on staff 25-30 plus years, they were pretty set in their ways. After a while, bringing some new ideas to how we operate city business and how we view energy efficiency and conservation—whether it be in buildings and their operation or in transportation and even talking about hybrids of all luxury vehicles and those kinds of things—they were really reluctant. It would be safe, I think, to say they were hugely resistant to change.
ST: What was it that sort of stemmed that tide? Was it time, was it policy, was it leadership?
FC: The real transition in the momentum switched when we did a series of townhall meetings. And the first one we did in one of our local faith-based communities up at Plymouth Congregational Church. I think that a lot of folks figured that the mayor is going to have a townhall meeting and nobody is going to come because nobody wants to discuss these issues. The place was packed, standing-room only, and they stayed to the very end. They got lined up to speak to each one of the presenters. It gave us a chance to show that the citizens were understood.
One gentleman, I remember to this day, stands up and says, “Mayor, I love this whole presentation but my wife is out to work. We’ve got three kids at home. I’m trying to make the house payments, I’m trying to pay the utility bill, I’m trying to pay my taxes, I’m trying to put food on the table and I’m trying to make my insurance payments. I don't have the money to do this.What can I do myself today?” And you realize that some of the things we were talking about—whether it's retrofitting your home and doing it in a really massive way, replacing windows and doors and insulation, blowing insulation in the walls, and doing all kinds of stuff—are not often real inexpensive things. This man wanted to know what he could do today. We gave him sort of a list of things that he could begin doing: turning his water heater down and starting to find ways to plan his days in his trips that rather than making 10 separate trips. Maybe he could plan it a little better and his family could plan it together, and they could cut it down to one or two trips. That was really exciting.
We had a mayor's task force that was working on energy and conservation in the environment. We decided in our task force that the city couldn’t ask people to do stuff that we weren’t willing to do ourselves and we had to lead by example. We gave a directive that was finally passed, believe it or not, not until 2007 did the city council finally pass this much fuller ordinance and resolution, directing all city departments to look at energy and conservation.
JM: Where do you feel you're at right now?
FC Well, we’ve started a number of programs. We’re looking at how we transition not only our own organization, but how do we make certain that other opportunities are available there. So let’s kind of step through it. We have looked at opportunities first at our solid waste landfill and then our waste water department; we capture methane at both of those facilities and it’s my understanding there’s enough electricity which we can either resell to others or use to run the operation. But apparently there is enough captured to run about 10,000 homes.
We look at how we run our fleets. The first department that ever stepped up to use hybrids was the police department. Everybody else was reluctant because the hybrids were a little more money. And I remember the discussion about buying certain domestic cars as opposed to a hybrid car, and the difference was like $5000. They said, “I’m not sure we’re going to save $5000 over the life of the car,” but I knew the residual value on the back end of the cars that we were buying. They were selling those cars for about $2500 when we were done with them. And I asked one of our people who I knew had a hybrid himself. I said, “Would you sell your hybrid with 80,000 miles on it for $2500?” He said, “No.” And I said, “Why don’t we look at the whole life cost of a vehicle and decide?” Because it was pretty close that they could make up that $5000 on just the fuel usage, but it just didn't pay out because we had that upfront cost. But when they factored in the residual value and the back end and looked at the whole life cost of operating a vehicle from purchase to sale, they discovered that it panned out and the balance went to the hybrids. So we started buying hybrids where they could be used. So we've got some Priuses and park department inspectors—we have detectives in the police department—using some hybrids. Not that we have a lot in there now, but I think we probably have 10 or 12 and we’re looking to expand that fleet. I was proud to have our police chief step up and say we’re going to get involved.
We’re also looking at LEDs. We have LEDs, not only in traffic signals where we've saved hundreds of thousands of dollars on the operation of those, but also we’re looking at streetlights and beginning to look at that. We have a contract that comes up soon and will probably look at what kind of fixtures we use on all the streetlights up and down city streets soon to see what's the most economical streetlight. We think LEDs will truly be a energy saver.
ST: I just wanted to have your sense of how bold Des Moines has been as a city—is it working in areas, striving forth where others still fear to tread? Do your see yourself really as a leader in all these areas, or are you actually learning from other cities?
FC: That's an interesting question, and I think that one of the ways to think about it is to look where we’ve come again nationally over the last eight years. I remember walking into one of my first mayor’s meetings, and here we were in a room with all the ICLEI, the International Council for Local Environmental Initiatives folks, and a number of other people that were selling lots of product involved, and talking about why we should do this. Of course, here I am as a believer and I’m looking around thinking, “Other mayors have to be here!” And here I'm in the national conference of mayors! There were six of us in the room that had come to this sort of after-general plenary sessions that were involved in this and we thought it was so important, the six of us. I can’t remember all the mayors that were in the room, but there was one from Seattle and one from Albuquerque and one from Austin and they were working on certain stuff, and we were trying to do certain things here in Des Moines. We looked to each other and said, “There needs to be a national objective to move this forward. We’re having a heck of a time at the national level and a heck of the time at the state level, and the real action has to take place locally and we have to lead by example.”
So here we are today with over 1040 cities that are finally signed on our climate protection agreement. Now take that to Iowa. We have about 34 to 35 cities in Iowa that have signed—keep in mind, there are 948 [cities] in our state—so we've got our ways to go. Some cities in some areas are easier. it’s easier certainly in Fairfield. I love the work that you guys have done down there and have been happy to help counsel, but I also learn as we share best practices together. Sometimes it’s easier in a smaller town; they move the ball little bit faster and a little further down field.
But here in Des Moines we've had quite a bit of acceptance. Now keep in mind, early on there weren’t a lot of architects and engineers that were buying into, let’s say, the LEED [Leadership in Energy and Environmental Design]—the US Green Building Council standard on levels of green—where they look at water use, electrical use, and they look at energy efficiency, and they look at the health of the building and all kinds of different variables and trying to get anybody to take a look at that. We, early on in the City of Des Moines, had those professionals say, “You don’t want to build that. It will cost you 30, 40% more and you’ll never get your money back.” And it was always a first cost cut of a basis and why would you want to do that? Finally, we had one of our directors agree—at quite a bit of urging—to bid out a regional facility, one of our maintenance facilities in the city, bid it out conventionally and then take the same building and design it to a LEED standard to meet all the same criteria. We said, “Let’s just bid them together and see if it actually is that 30, 40%.” When the bids came back in, the LEED bid was under the conventional bid, so not only was the first cost not 30 to 40% more, it was less than the conventional bid! We saved so many dollars in the operation of that building, and the day you first walked in there... it’s so amazing to walk into these buildings. I'm sure you've seen it done in Fairfield—there's no odors, there is none of that off-gassing that's going on. We're seeing that the sick days are less, people are more productive on the job, they like being in the building with natural lighting and all the other aspects that are there. So now, all of a sudden, all the buildings that we look at in the city we’re looking at using LEED. When we also constructed a LEED senior center and it’s a [Indiscernible] [00:17:23] site and up on the northeast side to tell the Martin Luther King Park. We also have our newest library that's being built, which is sort of a retrofit, and so we've doubled the size of the library. These are just some interesting statistics. As you look at all the technology in there is the Franklin Library so that doubled the size of library and it uses 82% less utility than the original building, which was half the size.
JM: I’m sorry. My little math acrobat in my head is doing somersaults on a pogo stick. Would you repeat that? That's an amazing statistic.
FC: The new library, which is twice as big as the old one, is essentially a remodel. So they’ve doubled the size of the library. That building, double the size, will use 82% less energy than the building before they did the remodel.
ST: Well, obviously this very impressive range of green policies is being put into action already. I was just wondering if you could give us a view on how significant that is for the overall budget of the city? Whether this is still very, very marginal, but growing, or whether now the collection of these policies is having a useful economic impact?
FC: We’re seeing economic impact in reduction of our energy costs for fuel for vehicles, and we’re also seeing it significantly in the LED switch-out on the lights. We’re seeing a lower consumption in the buildings—the ones that we have done retrofits for, and put more insulation in, and changed out windows and done those sort of things. These windows in our city hall are going to be changed. These were put in probably 20, 30 years ago and they're pretty inefficient.
JM: I do think that's where the rubber meets the road. Policies that you mentioned—those are interesting and important features and factors in this—but to do what you can do where you are, that’s sort what we’re on the road to discover. I know Fairfield has a reputation for that in many regards, and I'm wondering in terms of the vision, a vision of what's possible, what would you say for Des Moines and for Iowa?
FC: The vision would be that we can certainly have a much smaller impact environmentally on the future, depending on how we use resources, and acknowledging what the availability of those resources are, and which ones are renewable and which ones aren't. That we have a dream and have a plan to use our resources that are in place. Whether it's adaptively reusing houses or buildings and making the best use out of those, and turning those into a 21st Century opportunity that is healthy and consumes very little energy and is well lit and affordable. That we educate everybody on the reality of the finiteness, should I say, of certain resources. We need to recognize what sustainable resources look like, how we use them, and plan for the future so that our kids and our grandkids and our great grandkids have the same opportunities that we do with the resources that are available at that time. And to develop the newer resources that are renewables—the solar, the wind—so that Iowa, moving forward, is a sustainable place to live and to work and to have business. That we have our own energy resources, we have our own food and resources. I think that we have to spend a little time studying whether or not shipping fruits and vegetables in from a thousand-plus miles away, or from another continent, is a good model and a sustainable model. What does the next 100 years look like? What are we going to be when we move on, so to speak? And I think that we have to be much more adaptable and know how to do that and make sure that we’re betting the future on renewables and not on stuff that is dwindling in resource quickly.
ST: I have to say that the part of your vision that I find so compelling is that it's not that we've transitioned in 8 or 10 years from green being a sort of “farther-out” thing to do, but the idea of doing sustainable living and it just makes better sense—dollars and cents—and it’s something that can go forward and be expanded upon. You're not worried about using up resources that then are gone, and never mind the side effects from using them, and so forth. It’s a great vision. We appreciate your time, Mayor Cownie. Thank you so much for spending some time with us as our first interviewee on our road to discovery in Iowa. We’re really delighted that we were able to come here to city hall.
JM: Yes, I would like to also thank you very much. You’ve given us a great vision and also some very inspiring examples of what's actually happening now, how practical they are and the real benefits that are being seen for the city and the people that live here. So thank you very much for talking to us this morning.
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ST: And now we’re in West Des Moines at the Jordan Creek Mall. We’re going to do a quick series of vox pop questions. You can hear the mall in the background; it’s a beautiful facility. We’re going to ask random people, “What does sustainability mean to you?”
Vox Pop 1, male: Sustainability: able to carry on in a constant flow, I guess.
ST: Okay, and do you think Iowa is going green?
VP 1: Yeah, absolutely.
Vox Pop 2, male: My first thought is that we should get all the technologies in place before we outdate the old technology, because raising prices on the old stuff before the new stuff’s here is not going to make anybody happy.
ST: What would you like to see happen?
VP 2: I think any way that we can change technology and make things run faster, smoother, cheaper is good, but we just can't stop doing what we’re doing now until that’s in place.
JM: What does sustainability mean to you?
Vox Pop 3, female: Sustainabilit? I don’t know.
JM: Do you think Iowa is going green?
VP 3: It’s going green. Like my [high] school. We just put up a wind turbine. We, like, won the Pepsi thing. We got somebody to put up a wind turbine, so I think we’re trying. We just had to vote every day to get in the top 10. If you got in the top 10, we got $50,000, I think.
JM: What school is that?
VP 3: Waukee High School.
JM: Well, that's pretty darn green. Thank you very much.
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JM: And this is James Moore at COSC. It is a beautiful neighborhood driving in. You heard us in the car mentioning that we were going to be coming up this way, speaking with the mayor and also Lynnae Hentzen, who has been the Executive Director and, I believe, the co-founder of COSC, the Iowa Center on Sustainable Communities. We’re going to learn about what she has done here, what her vision has been, and where she is transitioning as well. So Stuart and I are really delighted to be sitting in a sunny office overlooking just a really great neighborhood. We’ll have Lynnae talk to us a little bit about that. Lynnae, how are you doing? Great to see you today.
Lynnae Hentzen: I'm good. Thanks, James.
JM: Well, first of all, we’re going to start at the micro level. Tell me a little bit about this neighborhood.
LH: We are very proud to be residents of historic Valley Junction. It is one of the original sustainable communities because it's got everything right here. It’s surrounded by homes and it’s got your post office and your retail and restaurants and grocery store, and it’s kind of the way it all used to be. We have a fondness for this kind of neighborhood. You say hi to folks and you know who is walking down the street, and that's kind of the way it should be.
JM: I'm pro- this neighborhood, for sure! Coming in, it's just a great setting and aside from being a beautiful day, let's ask a little bit about COSC and your founding of this. I believe it was 2006, is that correct?
LH: We actually were incorporated in 2005. Basically the story is, there were three of us who founded it but I, having grown up in Iowa, left for 20 years to go explore a little bit more of the world. And we made a deliberate move back with our family in 2004 and bought an existing home. I wanted to do a green remodel and couldn't find folks in the Des Moines area who really knew what I was talking about, and so I crossed paths with Chaden Halfill and we decided to start a nonprofit to bring education and resources to Iowa. We knew it was happening elsewhere. We knew it was attainable but there just wasn’t that connection yet or the education needed to move the market here. It’s happening in Fairfield, but in Des Moines... So that’s what we've done and six and a half years later we are doing a decent job serving the state and trying to really educate professionals from every sector, as well as homeowners, on how to incorporate more green elements into your life.
JM: I'm wondering if you could give an assessment from the time you started getting into this. Where would you say things were at when you started in 2005, as compared to now? Just give us a sort of setting.
LH: Well, to give you some perspective, when we talked about sustainability in 2005, that was a really scary, foreign word and now it's almost the opposite. Green and sustainability are everywhere, and it's challenging for consumers and professionals alike to navigate through and figure out what's true and what's not. We always like the term “sustainable” better than green because of the complexity that it portrays. There is a lot to it, and it isn't easy, and it's not black and white, so sustainability is a good solid word in trying to focus and shift the market. But folks are much more aware of it now and can talk a little bit more about it and are trying to learn as much as they can.
ST: So where would you say the state of Iowa is now, in terms of creating sustainable communities, even if it's areas and cities or whole communities? Is it ahead of the curve, catching up, or how would you assess how the state is doing?
LH: We’re certainly not ahead of the curve. I think we are catching up and one of the things that we like to talk about at COSC is this: so much of what the core of sustainability is about are things that we already know. The term may be new but the values are not. Buying local: our grandparents did that. Using natural materials: they did that, too. Managing their resources: they knew how to do that. And so in those terms, I think if Iowa can just remember our past and utilize the values that we were raised on, we would shoot way ahead in terms of sustainability because it is how we were raised and how we know how to do things.
ST: That’s an interesting point. Actually, it makes you think, when you realize that a lot of these things went on before. Why is it that we seem to move away from that as a state or as a society so radically and so much do you think?
LH: I think part of it is that we live in a fast world today, and we have very full lives and tend to over-stuff them with stuff and with things and events that maybe aren't as critical. So in the fact that we have all these time-saving devices and we feel like we have to move faster and faster, it's a lot harder to make those connections and maybe make those right choices than it was in the past. And I think some of our future is going to be in retracting a bit because I think that’s going to be necessary to get back to where we need to be on the sustainability front.
ST: Yeah, it’s a very interesting point. It occurs to me that because we’re moving faster and faster—I think I’ve heard someone say before, that, in a sense, to move faster you’ve had to earn more and consume more to pay for moving faster. And a lot of people got into that cycle where you're working to pay for the second car and there were so many things that came together like that, and then families moved to two people working and it resulted in trying to sustain this level of life, and so on. So is that a sort of core aspect of sustainability? That in a sense you pare away some of these things, you actually get back some time and that gives you time to sort of invest elsewhere?
LH: Precisely, and I think the thing that we have to portray effectively is that you're not necessarily giving up. You’re gaining. By retracting, you're actually gaining a richness back in life and you have time to notice it. We aren't noticing half our lives when we’re going full speed-ahead and living in chaos. And again I think our grandparents got that. They took the time to have conversations with people face-to-face and we've lost a lot of that through all of our technology, and we need to figure how to get back there.
ST: So where are the examples of this actually in play, as it were, where you have sustainable communities, where you have sort of an adoption of these sustainability practices on a scale that creates a community?
LH: In Iowa, certainly Fairfield is a great one, but Dubuque is doing great things. We've had the privilege of moving around to some of the communities, and some communities are less. Des Moines is certainly doing great things under the leadership of Mayor Cownie. And it's a bigger challenge because of the urban area and all the complexity that goes along with that. But one of the urban areas that has a lot of interest in this right now is Sioux City and they have several advocates on the ground working for historic preservation and sustainability, and that’s really what it requires from a community is some of those real strong advocates out in the trenches to really push initiatives forward, along with elected and community leaders.
ST: What about resistance? Obviously you’ve got to put a lot of things together. Sometimes--maybe we’ve passed that now--but sometimes it's seen as something that's a little bit left field or, not so much new agey anymore but something that you have to spend a lot of money on to get a small gain. So what are the aspects where there is still resistance to the thinking and resistance to the idea that this is necessary?
LH: We’re most successful when we can get those diverse viewpoints and those who may be resisting face-to-face around the table, because what I found in six and a half years with COSC is that we have a lot more in common than we think. And it’s so easy to forget that when you're not meeting and talking face-to-face. Sound bites divide. Human interaction, face-to-face conversation, unites, and we used to be really good at that in Iowa. Again, those are some values that we were raised with, and I think the more we can get back to that, the more success we’ll have in planning our future.
JM: I'm wondering, in terms of what you're seeing from where you started to where we are now, are things at a higher pitch from six and a half years ago?
LH: I think they are and it’s encouraging again when we go out to communities and we actually find those advocates on the ground throughout the state. And I’m also encouraged by the cooperative initiatives that we’re starting to see that go beyond community boundaries where cities are working together or regions are working together. An example of that is the MPL. We just received a grant here in the Des Moines area where all the suburbs and the city of Des Moines are coming together to work on a sustainable regional plan, and that’s huge. There hasn't always been a lot of cooperation between the communities. There is a lot of competition for businesses to set up shop there and so it’s a huge step when they're all coming together around the table and enthusiastically saying we can do better if we come together.
ST: Is there an aspect of this whereby in some respects you’re trying to take larger units and break them down into smaller units or reinvigorate smaller scales, which are more intricate? I can think that one of the things that happened, of course, is that large businesses took over other businesses that took over other businesses, became huge conglomerates that then reached out across the world. Local identity evaporates and entirely goes from that. And your sense for which they are part of the community—well not really, they operate across the globe, they have global interests and their corporate interests are not necessarily in line—so is one trying to move away from that again and if so is there a bit of resistance from that level?
LH: Yeah, and that's a really good point. It’s been said that we’ve lost, as you mentioned, the human scale in our buildings, in our streetscapes, in our communities, and we need to figure out how to recapture that. And a perfect example here in Iowa is the farm. My grandparents homesteaded their farm. They wouldn't survive without their neighbors and when it came time to harvest, they all rallied around and took turns bringing in the yield for the fall by helping each other. They had to spend a week on everybody's farm, or however long it took, and they worked together, they ate together, they communicated together, they were grateful together, and that has been lost in the larger scale farms. And we're seeing a resurgence of that in the smaller organic farms that are starting to pop up again now, but that strengthens the community when you have that much connection and you know you're there depending on each other. It builds strength and resilience, and we’re getting cracked by not having that connection and resilience anymore.
ST: And I would imagine that one of the benefits that flows out of that is self-sufficiency and independence because it’s precisely because we’re all connected up on this global scale that, what's happening in a country far away with weather, or with political events, or with scarcity of resources, suddenly impacts on us back here. Whereas the more you create this kind of network, the interdependents, the self-sufficiency, locally, the more you can move away from being subject to such shocks. And I suppose we've seen recently how powerful those shocks can be.
LH: Precisely, and it pervades with the environment and again with economics and with all of those things. The more we can have that resilience and independence, as you said, Stuart, right here locally, the more we can withstand some of the future batterings which we’re seeing more and more of.
JM: I would love to ask you what your vision is, going forward, from your perspective here. What do you envision for Iowa if there were no holds barred?
LH: Well, again, I think it really comes down to remembering the wisdom from our grandparents and figuring out how to build from those simple lessons that we were raised on. Be kind, be respectful, be careful with your resources—environmental and financial—look at each other in the eye when you talk to each other. Again, that requires sitting down together at the table, understanding how much we have in common. We all want healthy homes and businesses and communities to raise our families, and that's why most people live here, and so getting that back and recognizing that some of the things that we have in place right now are broken and are not establishing that, and so rethinking where we are. There is an urgency to getting engaged and figuring out some new paths forward. I know when I read books like [Bill] McKibben’s Earth, I find myself when projected years are laid out, where we’re going to run out of water by... I write the ages of my kids in the margin, and when you do that, when you bring it home that close to your personal life, that drills in the urgency that we can't wait that long, that we need to get involved now and we need to figure this out now, and we need to come together in order to do it.
JM: Beautifully said. Let me ask you this. What would your perfect—if you could have a perfect Iowa—what would it look like?
LH: My vision of a perfect Iowa would be green, connected, walkable, bike-able, sustainable communities like good old historic Valley Junction where we live now. Where people are coming together around the table, face-to-face, living together laughing together, and figuring out the future together.
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ST: We’re making a program about green issues and sustainability in the state of Iowa. I just wonder what you knew about what the state of Iowa was doing in terms of green initiatives and sustainability?
Vox Pop 4, female: I know that we’re number two in the nation for wind energy, and they are pretty progressive on that line. And I know that there is a big conference coming up to explore more of that, the Heartland Green Up. I know that the metro area is looking at a grant through HUD and EPA, sustainable development, including all aspects of that and water quality and the like.
JM: Wow, you know your stuff. What does sustainability mean to you?
VP 4: It’s very broad. I think it is fused into every industry and it’s not just life cycle, but the impact that our actions and our products have on everything.
JM: Do you think Iowa is going green?
VP 4: I do. I think we’re on the leading edge of the trend hopefully. We have ways to go, for sure, but we have a lot of opportunity, I think.
ST: Do you know what Iowa is doing for green initiatives?
Vox Pop 5, female: No.
JM: What would you say is sustainability?
VP 5: Sustainability is being able to sustain the earth or keep it going for a long time.
JM: And would you say Iowa is going green?
VP 5: I would say it is.
ST: What about the different kinds of energy generation there is in Iowa?
VP 5: There is more wind, definitely, even as you get farther in Western Iowa. I guess I wish they would drill a little more oil. Might help, because I don't think wind will produce it, but wind is good for things. And then solar.
ST: Do you live in Des Moines?
VP 5: No, I live in Waukee. I teach in the Des Moines schools and sometimes they’re not too green.
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JM: And this is James Moore. We have with us here up in Des Moines, our third interview. And we are pleased to speak with Monica Stone, who is connected with the Office of Energy Independence. KRUU-FM is very proud of the association with the Office of Energy Independence, because the 2010 energy independence plan actually featured the solar panels from the radio station in the Fairfield model that was last year's as a brand-new beautiful brochure for 2011. We are here to speak with Monica about energy independence—the history, the formidable presence it has in Iowa. Iowa has great stature in a number of areas. We’re here to talk with her about that and learn more. Monica, great to see you. How are you doing today?
Monica Stone: Doing very well, thank you.
JM: Well, could we start maybe by talking just a little bit about the history of the office and bring us up-to-date with what's going on there? I know the office started, I believe, in the ’80s, is that correct?
MS: Iowa has had an energy office since the first gas crisis in the Carter administration. And it's been a stand-alone office, it's been a part of the department of natural resources. Then in 2007 it was created again as a stand-alone office with the addition of the Iowa Power Fund, which was a $100 million commitment on the part of government to bring renewable energy and energy efficiency industry to the state and really focus Iowa on research and development and commercialization of energy technologies.
JM: When did Iowa become such a strong state in wind?
MS: Back in the early 2000s, Iowa was one of the first states in the nation to pass a renewable energy portfolio standard. It was a tiny standard in comparison to what we see today--it was a 105 megawatts--but what that really enabled us to do was to learn how to build wind farms in the state, and what it really meant and how to make those things happen. And so that very initial kind of toe in the water, with a renewable energy portfolio standard, was the first step in our wind process. And I don’t think the folks who put that in place at the time could have envisioned the robust business that’s been built around wind in the state today. We should be very proud of that work.
JM: Can you give us a little sense of where Iowa is at, in that regard?
MS: We kind of shift between first and second in the nation in terms of generating capacity, and certainly in terms of wind per person in the state we are almost always first. So good for us!
ST: I wondered if you could give us an overview of where we started out and where are now, then, in terms of the move towards energy independence. And what does that mean actually, energy independence, as well?
MS: Well, when you talk about energy independence, what we really don't mean is building walls around the state and saying we have to supply all of our own energy just for ourselves. We’re not really talking about that kind of independence. The kind of independence we’re talking about is the kind of independence our forefathers really thought about when they created our nation. It was the ability to choose. So the ability of choice in our energy sources and supply and how we use our energy from an efficiency perspective is really the important picture when we talk about energy independence. And so sometimes it makes sense to choose fossil fuels and the traditional sources of energy that we’re used to. In many cases in Iowa, it makes a lot more sense to look at homegrown fuels and homegrown resources that build our economy here today. Now, where we are in terms of energy independence, we talked a little bit about wind and that's a real success story. About 20% of our electric generation in the state comes from wind. That’s very high, and it’s something that we all have contributed to and has been an important part of our economy.
From a biofuels perspective, about 70% of Iowans use some form of biofuels when they fill up their gas tank. That keeps money right here in our own economy. But growing that percentage, as well as growing the national understanding of how biofuels can contribute to our economy, is critical. The thing that we don't often talk about is the thing that probably has the most to contribute, and that’s energy efficiency. And in Iowa we talk a lot about our wind programs, but our energy efficiency programs are nation-leading as well. In Iowa, we invest about $180 million a year through our utility energy efficiency programs and making our economy more efficient in getting more productivity out of every unit of energy that we buy and that we use. That's good because right now, we spend close to $6 billion a year on our energy bills into the economies of other states and other countries. And just to give a frame of reference, $6 billion is about the state budget. So, if we could keep more of that money here growing in our own economy, paying our own folks as opposed to paying folks in other states and other nations, we’d be better off. And we’re good at doing that.
ST: What's your sense of how things are currently? And then going a little bit into the future, would you say in terms of strategy things are speeding up and there’s more businesses becoming more energy-efficient, the energy efficiency is progressing at a faster and faster rate, and the same for the use of renewables? Or is it just a very gradual sort of step-by-step. Some idea of where we might be 2, 3 years down the line or 10?
MS: As we see prices increase—we've seen those at the pump, we’re likely to see those on our utility bills as well—energy efficiency becomes more and more popular with folks. It hits you right at home in your pocket book. And so we’ve seen a lot of interest in increasing transportation efficiency as fuel prices have gone up, and I imagine that as people's utility bills go up, they're going to be interested in energy efficiency in their homes as well. From a business perspective, of course, as the economy has gotten tougher, there are two competing factors there. Money is tight for businesses to invest in doing energy efficient upgrades, but it's also an important thing for keeping businesses productive. So we've helped businesses, to some extent, wrestle with that conflict between making an investment and having that return and keeping their prices low, but also having some difficulty. So my prediction is, on an energy efficiency angle, we’re going to see a lot of people paying a lot more attention to that. Renewables have their own challenges. Wind has transmission challenges. We can build all the wind that we want to here, but if we can't use it all here and we can’t get it somewhere else, it’s not going to do much good for anyone. And then from a biofuels perspective, most of us are familiar with the conflicts associated with biofuels and the truth and myth around much of the biofuels world out there. We hope that that will make a difference in the future in getting some real information out there about biofuels but that remains to be seen.
JM: Let's take that opportunity right now. Why don’t we elucidate just a little bit of the misconceptions and talk about what is really going on?
MS: First off, I'll say that in Iowa one of the things that we do really well is grow things, and it doesn't take a rocket scientist to figure that out. A nice summer drive around Iowa and you can see how good we are at growing things here. One of the things that we've grown well over time is corn, and so some of the folks who have been opposed to biofuels and ethanol have been opposed to using corn for biofuels and ethanol for all kinds of reasons, both related to the environment and related to food issues. One of the things that we know is that with most technologies you start with one source and you grow and you learn, and you move on to other sources; and that’s happening with biofuels as well. Cellulosic ethanol plants are becoming more and more viable. In Iowa, we’re likely to be building two very large cellulosic ethanol plants being supported by the Iowa Power Fund—one in Emmetsburg, and one closer here in Central Iowa in Nevada. And those particular plants are going help us learn how to make ethanol from other field sources than corn. They are also going to be looking at the other environmental impacts, water usage and pollution, natural gas usage. In particular, I'm familiar with the plant up in Emmetsburg where most of the energy that they use is going to be generated on-site from their own processes, so it will almost be a closed-loop system when it comes to energy, and they'll recycle most of their water using very, very little water. And so we’re learning more and more and making biofuels more and more viable, both from an economic standpoint and from a food versus fuel standpoint.
JM: What do you think is possible for Iowa?
MS: Iowa really is a state in a unique position to be able to be a national leader when it comes to energy. I think a lot of folks look at places like Texas and think they are a national, and when it comes to supplying energy for the country you can like or not like the comparison to Texas, but we really can become the Texas when it comes to energy. We can mine energy here from our wind, from the things that we grow—something as common as algae, who knew algae was really hazardous? I sure didn't but its kind of exciting to learn those things. Or products like switch grass and other kinds of materials that can be made into energy. The thing that we have available to us is we have really smart people in Iowa. We have great universities. We have a national lab at Iowa State University, We have a really hard-working group of people who understand, as you said, that a penny saved is a penny earned. Hopefully it’s more than a penny. And so we can be the hub of what the next vision for energy is for the country, and we’re one of the few places that can. We've got it all here. It’s just a matter of putting all those puzzle pieces together and getting them all working in the right direction. And that’s the great thing about a state energy office like OEI, or like the economic development authority in the future, is bringing all those puzzle pieces together and getting Iowans working toward that common goal of both an energy efficient and robust economy—and one where we make a lot of money from selling the energy resources that we have here.
JM: And thank you. That was Lauryn Shapter and Dennis James of Truckstop Souvenir. A snippet from their song: “Song for Iowa.” [From the CD Under A Big Blue Sky.] Pretty appropriate wouldn't you say? They are Iowa transplants now, from Seattle originally, Texas and New York City, believe it or not. Stuart, we have made our foray up to Des Moines for our very first show for the Dream Green series. Really delighted to start this journey, looking forward to a lot of great stuff ahead. What do you say?
ST: I'd said it was a great day and we met three great individuals who are doing fantastic work. They are all warm, very friendly, great leaders and it was really interesting to hear about all the things that are going on. And for our first program, really we were giving a vision of the future—not only sort of saying what's going on now, but giving some sense of where people think that we could end up. Certainly the vision that we had was one, yes, where there needs to be some urgency and we need to crack on with it, but that in the state of Iowa, things are moving and they are moving fast, and there are some great things underway.
JM: Talking all about this great work that so many people are doing in different corners of Iowa, I just can't wait to get on the road again and look at some more stuff.
ST: Oh! It's great. I’m really look forward to going for our next trip as well. I think we’re going to hear many different voices. All those voices are going to have different kind of takes on the situation in Iowa, or in the potential, and what's going to happen going forward. I think that we will certainly meet some experts and some individuals who feel quite strongly that, yeah, there are some good things happening, but there is a great urgency really, and a great deal needs to be done if you put Iowa in a larger picture of the critical kind of crunch that's coming on—natural resources and energy resources and the general sort of drift in climate change you can see already, and we've heard voices about concerns over the climate change, and so on, the greater flooding. So we will be getting into all those issues, the flowers and the thorns of the issues, I think.
JM: It’s just something to kind of set our compass on those folks who have been at the forefront, leaders in this great endeavor for many years, decades now. And we’ll talk about our next show coming up in just a second. I just want to say thanks to all our listeners who are coming on this journey. Thanks to the Iowa Power Fund Office of Energy Independence for setting us up, and the great people of the Fairfield area and Greater Jefferson County, for joining into this journey of discovery for all the good things possible in terms of jobs. I know the state is really looking at this as Monica Stone was mentioning in terms of jobs, but also in terms of renewable sources. And when you figure that Iowa is a state that kind of has all the different elements, to me, Stuart, it's a model for what a lot of states can be doing and are doing putting those practices together. And really inspire Iowans to be inspired by other Iowans who are doing this great work. Together we can create a greener tomorrow, today. What does it look like coming up next week?
ST: Well, next week we’re going to the Center for Energy and Environmental Education and we’re going to be speaking to Pat Higby there, who has graciously offered to spend some time with us and talk through her vision of the future going forward for energy efficiency and renewable energy, and she's an educator as well. So she’ll be talking to us about various activities that go on at the center, and actually the building itself, which is one of the very early buildings in the state of Iowa which incorporated a lot of energy-saving features. So that’s something we’re looking forward to, and actually we’re talking to the architect who designed that building: Kevin Nordmeyer. He is the director of the Iowa Energy Center. So some very interesting subjects we’ll be going through there.
JM: We’re going to be doing what we call 3-D radio as well, going to different events like the Solar Splash and different projects that are going on all over the state, so you don't want to miss a single program. Greeniowa.org is where you can come and find out what we’re doing, and all these shows will be offered across the state for people interested. One of the things we’re doing with the website is, with this public awareness campaign, looking at best practices and so forth. We’re also using that as a connecting hub to all the great work that so many people have been doing for so many years. So keep it tuned here, come on back, check out the website. We are looking for program number two next week for the Dream Green series, right here on solar-powered KRUU-FM.
Voiceover: Produced by Stuart Tanner and James Moore at solar-powered KRUU 100.1 FM in Fairfield, Iowa. Online at kruufm.com. This series is funded in part by a grant from the Iowa Office of Energy Independence and nearly 70 individuals, companies and organizations. For a complete list of sponsors, visit our website at greeniowa.org. Archives available for download under a Creative Commons license. Music from Skunk River Medicine Show, Zila and Truckstop Souvenir.
Dream Green 1 - English Transcript
DREAM GREEN 1