Bob Swindell: Certainly wind is going to play a big role here in Iowa because we’re blessed with that resource. I think you’re gonna see a lot of interest in natural gas here in Iowa. Some of that infrastructure has already been put in place. I think that you’ll see improvements made to reduce the emissions from our existing coal fleet. I think that coal will be around at least for the remainder of my lifetime. Probably the next thirty, forty years we’ll still have some coal. I don’t really envision there being much new coal fire generation built. There’s just too much uncertainty around that. I think nuclear’s gotta be a piece of the energy future here in Iowa, even with the issues surrounding that. But I think that’s gotta be a portion of our portfolio going forward too. For solar, I think we’re gonna have to see the price of the facilities kind of come down. They’re still not competitive with those other sources. Now, once again, if there’s incentives there, if the technology improves, I know there’s a lot of research going on to make solar more efficient.
Gary: All you have to do is sign up we use infrared technology today. We’ll come to your house. We’ll do a blower door test. And we’ll show you where you’re losing your energy at. And we’re going to show you how to make recommendations to fix it. We’re gonna guide you on the rebate programs and everything like that today.
Amy Dehart: We do the lightbulb thing and the installation thing and turn off the lights. We try where we can.
Ron Camby: It was the suggestion of Access Energy that we have an energy audit done. So we did that. And I’ve done some things, added some insulation and a few other things to help insulate the house and keep the energy costs down.
Kimberly: I really haven’t put a total number to it, but I mean it’s hard to compare year to year because the temperatures are colder one year or another, but my highest bill was, like, $50 less than last year’s highest bill.
Voiceover: Welcome to the Dream Green Series, with co-hosts Stuart Tanner and James Moore. On solar-powered KRUU FM. Iowan’s 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: Here we are once again on that road. Right now we’re on our way to visit Access Energy. The CEO Robert Swindell we’ll be speaking with. It’s their annual meeting. We’ll hear more about that. But as we’re driving from Fairfield to Mount Pleasant, where Access is, we’re passing as we speak – you know oftentimes we go ‘oh, there’s one of those big wind turbines going by’ blades for it anyway. Like here we’re going past a coal train about 3 or 4 country miles long. A lot of big, big black coal as we head out to Access Energy. This is James Moore with Stuart Tanner, part of the Dream Green Series, and we are headed out to another event that will be, I think, interesting. One that we wanted to cover. Stuart, as we speak today, 106 degrees outside. I think the heat index is 117, I heard. I’m grateful for the air-conditioning inside the vehicle at the moment. But how’re you doing? And tell me a little bit about where we’re headed.
Stuart Tanner: Yeah, makes me think many of these exceptional weather events we’ll be commenting on and then saying, but of course you can’t say there’s global warming just because of this singular extreme weather event. But actually we keep on having to say that, many times. And everyone else is. So, the sum total of all that is, yes folks, it is happening.
JM: Well, speaking of Access we’re heading there. We’ll be there in just a few moments. What do we have to look forward to in Mount Pleasant?
ST: Well, it’s Access Energy’s grand celebration open day. I believe there’s music. And because they’re an energy co-operative and they push for energy efficiency as well as providing energy, there will be trucks there that will give you ideas as a customer or anybody that turns up, like KRUU FM and the Dream Green Series. Ideas about how you can be more energy efficient. And we’ll be speaking to Bob Swindell who’s the general manager and CEO of Access Energy, and pitching some of the baseballs his way. And maybe a curve ball here and there about some of the crucial issues, because this is one of the first, if not the first utility company that we will be talking to.
JM: Great, looking forward to that. And this one, not too far from Fairfield and it’ll be interesting looking at what a co-operative does. But we’ll also be learning about a big, big solar power project that’s happening right there, I think at the headquarter of Access Energy in the very near future. So, keep it tuned right here, we’ll be right back.
JM: And here we go. We are turning right into McMillan Park, and I see quite a few cars here already. Looks like there’s a stadium back over there. Well, looks to me almost like where old Threshers is, maybe this is the same place. There’s Access Energy tent events pavilion. As we pull up we see a number of people walking up. Quite a good gathering already. The event gets underway at five and obviously we see a lot of folks here already. There’s the Access Energy sign. Stuart is looking for a parking spot here as we speak. And we will be joining the festivities shortly. Quite a gathering, that’s for sure. This must be one of those shin-digs that folks are all about here. So, we’ll be with you in just a moment. Keep it tuned right here.
JM: Robert Swindell, right?
Bob Swindell: Actually, it’s Bob.
JM: Ok, we’ll keep it Bob. I saw Robert on the website. Good to see you here. I see you picked a hot one today.
BS: Well, yes we did. It’s kind of the luck of the draw. We set this date about a little over a year in advance, so then we have to deal with what Mother Nature gives us.
JM: I want to introduce as well, this is my co-host Stuart Tanner. This is Bob Swindell. This is a big day for what you do here. I know it’s going to get a lot more crowded. It’s great to be able to have a few minutes with you. Part of the Dream Green Series. We’ve been travelling all over the state talking to innovators, and cutting-edge communities. From Dubuque, Davenport, Des Moines. Up at ISU, UNI and all over the place. Stuart, do you wanna start with a couple questions here?
ST: Yeah, actually, perhaps you could just start by telling us what Access Energy is? What a, you know, electric co-operative is and does, really.
BS: Well, we’re the electric provider for roughly 9,500 homes, farms and businesses in a ten-county area here in southeast Iowa. But as a co-operative, we are owned by the people that take service from us. And you’re here today at our annual meeting. This is our opportunity for our members to come out, learn a little bit about the co-operative. Our sole mission is service to our members. We operate on a non-profit basis. One of the things we’re doing here this evening is we’re returning paper niche capital. That’s an actual check based on your energy consumption. What we earn over and above what it takes to operate the co-operative is allocated back to the members in the form of paper niche capital. Tonight we’re going to return around $800,000 in paper niche back to our members. Either tonight at the annual meeting, or if you’re not able to make it, we’ll have them in the mail here in a couple of weeks.
ST: Yeah, well that sounds really good indeed. A great model and very sweet. You’ve been in the energy business for quite a while, so perhaps you can give us a little explanation of some of the changes you’ve seen.
BS: Well, I have been. I’ve been working for co-operatives since 1977 and what I really tell people is, the more things change, the more they stay the same. Because when I entered the co-operative industry in 1977, we were facing environmental regulations, we were basically looking at where our supply, our next generation of generating resources were gonna come from. And we were beginning to actively get involved reinforcing our efforts at energy efficiency for our members. I came into the industry in 1977, and these were the things we were concerned about. And low and behold, thirty-five, thirty-six years later we’re dealing with the exact same issues. It’s changed some from then, but basically those core issues of how do we basically get that next generation of resources available, because our appetite for electricity, even with our efforts at energy efficiency, our appetite for electricity continues to grow.
JM: Well, I just wanted to ask one thing, and we’re here in a big park, MacMillan Park I think it is, why don’t we for our radio listeners, we hear some music in the background, we got to as quite a spot as we could. We see some tractors. Stuart is from Britain, he was asking ‘those don’t look like normal tractors.’ I said, ‘I think they’re a little bit pre-normal.’ Give us a little sense, Bob, about our setting right here?
BS: Well, part of the annual meeting is having some fun too. And so we have lots of activities for people to come out and enjoy. We’ve got a nice meal for our members that come out tonight. But then we’ve got the folks from Drive a Tractor, and these are antique tractor owners that bring their tractors out and give kids and some not so young kids an opportunity to get on and drive an antique tractor. I don’t think there’s a Model A over there, I see a B. But when I was a kid that’s the kind of tractor I learned how to drive, back in the sixties growing up in Missouri. So we have that, we got a bunch of inflatables for the kids and grandkids that accompany the members. It’s as much about having some fun tonight as it is, basically, just all business.
JM: And the band sounds real good, already going out there. I think you go like five to ten, right? So you have a good party.
ST: What about the sources of your energy? Are you neutral as regards to what type of energy comes into you? Or are you more positively promoting sourcing from renewable energy these days?
BS: We really believe we need a balanced approach to energy production. We have a portfolio of generating resources. We’re somewhat unique in the co-operative world in that not only do the members own Access Energy which is a distribution system. We actually get the power from the substations to their homes. We’re a member of a transmission co-operative that’s based in northeast Missouri. Along with seven other members like ours, we own our own transmission network and our substations. There are six entities like our transmission co-operative that collectively own Associated Electric in Springfield, Missouri which operates our generating assets. And we have a fleet of coal plants. We have a fleet of high-efficiency natural gas plants. In fact the latest one just came on the line in June. We’ve also worked very closely with wind developers. We have about 500 megawatts of wind in our portfolio right now, primarily in northeastern Missouri. But I just got a report from them, or a notice from our power supply folks that they’ve just basically entered into an agreement to purchase the output of a new wind farm that’s going up in Kansas, and a new wind farm that’s going up in Oklahoma which will about double our portfolio of wind. Since we’re non-profits, we really can’t take advantage of the tax incentives that are available for wind development. But how we fit in the equation, is we enter into the long-term contracts to purchase the output of those farms so those developers can go acquire the capital they need to basically build those assets and then of course they take advantage of the tax credits and that results in a lower price for us. We also were fortunate to have allocation of hydroelectricity from the Southwest Power Administration, primarily dams in southwest Missouri and northwestern Arkansas. So we’ve got a nice mix of generating assets. One thing I’m very proud of, we just basically had a new 100kw solar-ray come on line on our headquarters facility here in Mount Pleasant. We were fortunate enough to receive a grant from the Office of Energy Independence last year to help fund this project and so we’re looking to see how the solar performs in a commercial setting. We’re really happy about that. It came on line July the eighth. We had some folks from the Office of Energy Independence down this morning looking at it. It’s already produced a little over 15,000 kilowatt hours for that last half of the month of July. Which, it’s performing a little better than what we thought. Right now I got a power bill today so I know what day and time we peaked for July, so I gotta tomorrow go in and basically pull the data up and look and see how much capacity the solar panel contributed on our peak. But, intuitively, I’m thinking we probably got about 70, 75kw out of it. Yeah, really excited about that.
JM: Well that is exciting. Especially because we’re a solar-powered radio station ourselves talking to now a solar-power headquarters. Thought that was coming on line in September so that’s good to hear. We’ll be with you in just a moment. Keep it tuned right here.
JM: And we are in the big tent here, a lot of folks eating in preparation for meeting announcements later on. They are lined up here in front of the dividend counter, this would be the Access people. The Access Co-operative members receiving their checks back from what we talked about earlier with CEO, Bob Swindell, for Access Co-operative. And thoughts, Stuart?
ST: Well, yeah, this is amazing watching this co-operative at work here on this particular day. You come here and there’s people with chairs and tables, hundreds and hundreds of them sitting down having a meal courtesy of Access Energy, as well as the slides and the tractors. And then in this section, people are cueing up, giving in their ID and then they’re picking up checks, which is the profit that was made on the sale of the energy going back to the members of the co-operative. And I bet everybody that pays bills, I pay Alliant, I would like to go along to an Alliant party at the end of the year and get a check which is the profits made from me purchasing their energy. Wouldn’t you?
JM: I guess that’s the difference between a co-operative, perhaps, and a business. I think Bob Swindell said there were about thirty-eight such co-operatives in Iowa, and that’s just a different kind of beast. Interesting, huh?
ST: I think it’s fantastic. As I say, I think it could be a model that would be very popular all over the place. I’m sure if you ask members of the public which they would prefer to be their utility company, I’m sure many would prefer the co-operative model.
JM: Well, and as we see you can hear people in the background, across the way the tractors are still going, we have kids going down slides.
ST: The display over here which looks like different types of lighting, and insulation as well. So let’s go and and have a look at that, see if we can talk to Gary.
JM: A little display area. Hey, Gary! This is James Moore and Stuart Tanner we’re with KRUU FM, solar-powered radio station in Fairfield. We’re doing a little feature on Access for the Dream Green Series. You’re here with some lights and insulation. What have you got here that you can talk to us about?
Gary: Well, actually, what we’re doing here today is we’re showing you what the lighting is all about as far as the T12 light bulbs, the T8 light bulbs, the T5 light bulbs, the amount of electricity they use as far as kilowatt hours is concerned. And we’ve also got another lighting display over there where they’re showing you all of the incandescent lighting as well as the compact florescent lighting today that’s available to you. Our next little stand up part over there shows you how insulation works inside your walls with sealed joints, unsealed joints. And then last but not least, over there we’ve got the four kinds of insulation that we’re showing you today is what’s the best, what’s better, what works, and what doesn’t work. With our ping pong balls we’ve got a fan blowing through the back of the insulation, you can see we’ve got the foam up there on the top, we’ve got cellulose, blown fiberglass, and then fiberglass mats. And as you can see the ping pong balls, you know they’re clear up at the top. So, we’re just trying to stress to people how it works. And at last but not least over here we’ve got our blower door display which is a free service that we offer to all of our members out here. All they have to do is sign up. We use infrared technology today, we’ll come to your house, we’ll do a blower door test and we’ll show you where you’re losing your energy at. We’re gonna show you how to make recommendations to fix it. We’re gonna guide you on the rebate programs and everything like that today.
JM: Fantastic. I love seeing the walls like this. We just did some insulation in one of our older buildings and it made a big difference in the old attic, even with the cellulose blown in. This gives it such a graphic image.
ST: You see, what they’ve got here is a fan on the other side of the insulation so if you turn the fan off, I’m just turning it off on the blown fiberglass and there’s a tube in front with the ping pong ball in it. So the fan is off now, the ping pong ball is down at the bottom of the tube, I turn the fan on it goes to the top of the tube because the blown fiberglass is not stopping that air coming through. So, yeah it’s not very good. Whereas with the others, cellulose and foam, it is stopping the air coming through just as you were saying, Gary. Now that is a superb demonstration, really excellent.
JM: Yeah, and also, the cellulose you say is even cheaper. What was the price for these four different options, roughly?
G: The actual price on it depends on the r-value. The bats can run you anywhere from $3 to $4, up to $10 or $12. A sack of blown fiberglass will run you about $9. A bag of cellulose will run you about $6. The spray foam, I leave that up to the people that sell the stuff. What I do there is I try to get them to a contractor who will do them a good job and not leave holes, and everything there. So, the spray foam, we leave that up to whomever is doing that job there.
JM: In terms of the lighting, give us a quick breakdown there.
G: What we’re showing you is compact florescent lights and how they the different lighting you’ve got available today, so you’re not locked into this little screwy light bulb anymore. Now we got decorator lights, so to speak. We had a teardrop light until somebody broke it earlier today. We’ve also got a little-
ST: That’s why it’s called a teardrop light.
G: Yeah, we cry about it right? So we’ve got a small 40watt light bulb right here, we’ve also got the globe light, which is a banding light that goes into the bathrooms and you seal a series of five light bulbs. You put it on today, you can see the curly-cue light bulb inside but it’s got the decorator look on the outside. Now, same thing on the flood lights, all the way through. And then we’ve also hooked everything up to a kilowatt meter so we can show you how many amps that those are pulling versus how many amps a single 60watt incandescent light bulb pulls, and which is going to do you more good, you know.
ST: Ok, let’s just explain what’s happened. So we just got a single 60watt bulb, old technology reading-
G: Point four nine right up here.
ST: So, it’s reading four-nine. So we turn that off.
JM: And now we’ll go to a spiral, takes just a second for it to come on. There it goes. I guess it’s a little loose in there. There it is. And let’s see what that does.
ST: Yeah, so the spiral light which is the newer technology is reading thirty, no, twenty-nine.
JM: And much brighter, actually.
G: This is what we call a daytime florescent light, ok. So they make them soft white. They make a daytime florescent, so you have to go to someplace that does a lighting display to see what florescent light is going to work for you.
ST: Those are quite a big difference in the numbers.
G: Yes, they really are.
ST: And that will translate into quite a bit different-
G: Quite a bit of savings for you, yes. Now we’ve got the flood light up here, and look at what the amp draw is on.
JM: Sixteen. That’s amazing. So this is the compact florescent, and yes, people are familiar with the squirrely way as you say that they go, but now we see a whole bunch of different with residential displays globes and outdoor reflector, really much more pleasing I think.
G: Yeah, they are. And the thing you want to remember, and there’s another myth that’s going around today, and people are talking about mercury in these light bulbs. If you’re familiar with the old round Honeywell thermostat in your home, if you look on the back of that thing has so much mercury in it, it’s beyond belief. The amount of mercury that one of these lights has in it is one-tenth of one percent. It’s the tip of an ink pen, for crying out loud. So, there’s no mercury in there to worry about, but everybody get wrapped around everything and they don’t want to use it because of this or because of that. Think about what it can do for you today.
ST: Have you had much interest from people?
G: Yes, yes. We offer the free energy audit, so this gets them over here to begin with and then we show them what they do here. And then we also talk them through rebate programs, so you know if you spend $1,000 doing rebate or updates to your house, we’re going to reimburse you 50% of that. So you can get a $500 rebate check from us as well.
ST: Boy, you people are good.
G: Well we try to be, ok? If you need a new air conditioner there are things we can help you with on things like that versus new furnaces for example. There’s rebate out there available for that too, but there’s specific guidelines that you have to follow and it all starts with an energy audit. That’s the whole key to this whole thing that’ll make it work for you, is an energy audit first. Ok?
JM: Which for your members is free.
G: Which for our members is absolutely free, yes. And like I said we use the infrared technology today, the infrared cameras. So, if you’ve got air leaks in there, definitely we’re gonna find them for you.
ST: Brilliant. Yeah, excellent. And then you’ve got a little truck there which is other displays also about energy efficiency.
G: That is so hot in there tonight, I wouldn’t recommend that you go in there.
JM: 120 I think it is, but the heat index is 106 when I started up this way from Fairfield. But hey, we sure appreciate you taking a minute, don’t wanna hog all the action here. Looks like you all know how to throw a soiree.
ST: Well, thanks very much Gary for talking with us. That was excellent, really good.
G: ‘K, well thank you very much.
JM: Its hot today, isn’t it?
JM: We’re here at Access Energy co-operative the celebration. Tractors in the background, people visiting and we just wonder hear your take. You’re a member here?
M: Yes, sir.
JM: How’s the co-operative doing? We heard some pretty good numbers.
M: They better be good, I’ve been writing them checks every month.
JM: There you go. Do you have a question, Stuart?
ST: Yeah, are you getting on board more with thinking about energy efficiency yourself?
M: Not as much as I should, probably. It can always be more I feel like.
ST: Have you noticed your bills going up and you begin to think ‘well maybe there’s some things I can do’ or?
M: We’ve been doing more for in the winter, I mean we have a pellet stove so we’re not burning as much propane, and stuff like that. But really we don’t leave stuff on and things like that, so I think I take most of the steps that I can afford. I wish I could do more energy efficient stuff to my house, but i can’t right now, so.
JM: I can relate.
M: Even with rebates.
JM: Yeah. I know, you got two, you got two blond children here pulling on each arm. This looks like a good party even though it’s about a thousand degrees.
M: They’ve been talking about it since they very first got out of bed this morning, ‘is it time to go yet? Is it time to go yet?’ So.
JM: Are you having fun?
JM: You been down the slides yet?
ST: Have you been on the tractors?
ST: Wouldn’t you like to do that? Have a little ride around on a tractor?
JM: He’s not sure. And what are your names, guys? What’s your name?
JM: Nice. And your name? Memphis? Nice. Anyway, thank you so much, what’s your name?
M: My name’s Martha.
JM: Martha, thanks, have a great day.
ST: First of all, would you like to tell us your name?
Amy Dehart: Amy Dehart.
ST: Amy, this is James, Stuart. KRUU FM, Dream Green Series. I just wanted to ask you what it felt like to be a member of the Access co-operative?
AD: Feels good.
ST: Have you, have you been able to pick up a dividend check?
AD: No, I haven’t made it there yet.
ST: Alright, but you will be?
ST: I mean, that’s a bit unusual isn’t it? You know, be able to buy energy from somewhere and then at the end of the year you can pick up a check.
AD: Yeah. I think it’s great that they give back to us, that they’re able to do that for us.
JM: We’re wondering, how are you with the energy efficiency stuff?
AD: Good, we try. We do the light bulb thing, and the installation thing, and turn off the lights. So, we try where we can.
JM: Great. So did you get an energy audit which is something that Access offers, or not?
AD: We haven’t yet. No.
JM: No pressure, we’re just checking.
ST: Are you having a good time here? What have you been up to?
AD: My daughter’s been bouncing and we’re to going to go ride a pony.
JM: We were just thinking about that.
JM: Either the tractor or the pony. Anyway, thank you Amy so much.
AD: Thank you.
ST: I wonder if we could just ask you a couple of questions.
Ron Camby: Sure
ST: We’re doing a series called Dream Green. It’s about energy efficiency and all the rest of it. I just wondered whether you had taken advantage of any of the energy efficiency ideas from Access Energy.
RC: Well, we did the energy audit. Actually, I had somebody else do it, but it was the, kinda the suggestion of Access Energy that we have a energy audit done. So we did that. And I’ve done some things, added some insulation and a few other things to help insulate the house and keep the energy costs down.
ST: Have you noticed that it’s made a difference.
RC: I think it has, yeah. I did this last year, and I’ve had one winter, and I’m siding the house, so I’ve got green board going on the side before the siding goes on and that’s helped as well.
ST: When you talk to other people, members of the co-operative or others, do you think people are thinking more about energy efficiency these days?
RC: Well I think so. Yeah, I think so. With prices going up, you know you gotta think about it.
ST: Ok. Well, what’s your name by the way?
RC: My name’s Ron Camby, I’m from St. Louis.
JM: Well, nice to meet you. James Moore, Stuart Tanner. You’ve been talking on solar-powered KRUU FM, so we appreciate your comments. Enjoy this beautiful day. A little warm, huh?
RC: Well, a little bit, but its August so, what the heck? You know.
JM: Ok, thank you.
ST: So, Kimberly thanks for talking to us. I just wanted to ask you whether you yourself had been thinking more about saving energy and bringing in some ideas for energy efficiency in your own home?
Kimberly: Oh, I live it. We practice it so much at work that I’ve changed all my light bulbs and I’ve done a lot of remodeling, I’ve put in new doors, put in new insulation in my house, and everything I could think of to make my home more efficient too.
JM: And what have you found from that?
K: My bills are really a lot lower this year after I’ve done everything. When I just did the insulation it helped a little, but when I did everything else on top of it, I really noticed a significant difference this year.
ST: How much you think you might be saving through having done all that?
K: I really haven’t put a total number to it, but in the end it’s hard to compare year to year. Temperatures are colder one year or another, but my highest bill was like, $50 less than last year’s highest bill.
JM: Yeah, that adds up over a year.
ST: Yeah, and of course then that’s every year. That’s the beauty of it, isn’t it? That, that just goes on and on and on being the case. What do you say to other people then in terms of relating your experience?
K: Well, it makes it a lot easier for me to answer questions if people call in, you know. It makes it easier for me because I’ve done it, I’ve seen the results and I can tell them I feel that it works, you know?
JM: I guess we call that ‘walkin’ the walk’.
K: That would be walkin’ the walk.
ST: So, have you noticed people more interested in that? Asking more questions?
K: Definitely, definitely. Yeah. Just since we’ve put in our rebate program and we try to get that out there as much as we can, that itself draws a lot more questions from members. And they’re starting to see it. And there’s also been more questions about renewable energy projects. Those are increasing too. So we have a rebate for those, and we’re really starting to have more questions on those. So, that’s kind of exciting too.
JM: By the way, congratulations on your solar power at the office. We want to get a chance to look at that at some time. I know Bob mentioned that you’re doing very careful measuring between that and wind and some other things, but how does it feel in there with some sun power?
K: We’re very excited about it. It’s obviously something very new for us in this area. But we’re pretty proud of it. And we’re very excited about it. And can’t wait to see, you know, once we start monitoring what it’s actually putting out, is what I’m excited to see.
ST: Great, well, excellent. Thank you, Kimberly. Kimberly works for Access Energy, and obviously doing a great job. And actually, she’s very busy so it’s very good of her to talk with us because there’s all these people to look after.
JM: We’ve hijacked her, but from a solar-powered radio station to a solar-powered energy company co-operative, keep up the good work. This is the Dream Green Series with Stuart Tanner and James Moore. We’re at the Access party and things are getting sweeter and neater all the way, a little cooler right good job.
K: And thank you guys for being here, I appreciate it
JM: Our pleasure, we’ll let you get back to the festivities. Thanks Kimberly.
JM: We’re back, yeah. We got a little quieter place here. We can see the whole vista of the event here, and it’s quite an event actually. We can hear the tractors in the background, the antique tractors.
ST: There’s the bouncy castles and slides. I know you’re going to want to go on one of those later, aren’t you?
JM: I think I might just stick to it if I go down at the moment. At any rate, we’re here with Bob Swindell who’s the CEO of the Access Energy Co-operative. We’re learning about what co-operatives do, what he’s done, and some pretty exciting stuff. You were invited into Fairfield, part of the Green Business Council that was going on there. A group of businesses looking at ways of becoming more efficient and you shared your perspectives there with that group. I guess that’s one of the functions too, you’re probably asked to do some education from time to time.
BS: We do a lot of education on energy efficiency. In fact, education happens to be one of the co-operative principles that all co-operatives abide by so, educating our members as to how to best utilize that energy is a critical piece to our business. I always remember a quote from former manager that I worked for early on was he always said ‘use all you need, but need all you use’ and I think that still rings true today, that we don’t have to do without, we just need to do it smarter so that we can enjoy modern technology and modern convenience, but with a much smaller energy footprint while we’re doing them. Right now we offer a number of rebates to our residential customers for geothermal heating and cooling systems, high-efficiency heat pumps and air conditioners, high-efficiency washing machines, dishwashers. One of the things that I’m most interested in, is our rebates for energy efficiency improvements to the shell of your home, because that’s where we really get the best bang for our buck today is is if we can encourage members to do some caulking, do some weather stripping, add some more insulation to their home, maybe replace those old windows. Those are long-term savings that will basically benefit us for what, forty, fifty year old life-span of that home. So, I’m very excited about that. We offer rebates. We also do energy audits for our members. We’ve got two certified energy auditors on staff. We have the equipment, we have the thermal imaging equipment, we have the blower doors. We can go out and do as professional an energy audit on a home as anywhere in the United States. And so, we offer those free to our members too. All you have to do is call in and make an appointment. You know, very excited about basically making that available to our members, ‘cause we really get a lot of benefit from making those basic improvements to that shell of a building.
JM: If people are interested in joining a co-op, or your co-op, what is the process there? What do they do?
BS: Well, in Iowa our territory is dictated by the state, so it’s a matter of geography as to whether you’re a member of Access Energy or your electric provider is some other utility. The state had the foresight to see that is wasn’t prudent to be making duplicate investments in point. So they allocated territory out based on geography. So, that really determines whether you’re a member of the co-operative or not.
ST: Obviously people are putting in geothermal, little wind turbines, solar particularly. Have you seen an increasing amount of that going in to your grid from private energy generation?
BS: We’ve seen a lot of interest in small wind, we’re starting to see some interest in solar. We have been very successful at the geothermal installations. We’ve offered very good rebates in with the tax incentives for installing these. We’ve seen a lot of interest in people installing the geothermal. It probably has the best payback compared to a solar panel or a wind turbine. We try and work very closely with folks that want to look at producing some of their own energy. We have rebates available for the installation of either solar, wind. What we do on our rebate is is we look at what the connective load is, we basically determine that rebate based on that connective load. We’re quite honest with people, if your goal is to sell electricity back to the co-operative you’re not really going to make any money doing that. But there is value in offsetting your own consumption with these, and so, to the extent that you’re offsetting your own consumption with them. We’re more than happy to work with people and provide rebates on systems that’ll do that.
ST: Yeah, that’s an interesting point, ‘cause I believe some people in the Eco-Village in Fairfield, that’s a point they raised with us, that Access Energy won’t buy their excess energy if they have some. So they stick it in batteries. Is that right?
BS: That’s because, I’m not sure if all those homes are physically connected to our system. But we do purchase the output, the surplus back from our members and what we do is we treat them just like our power suppliers. The co-operative, we get a wholesale power bill every month, and so I know what our power costs our membership. To be equitable to all the members, we know the value of electricity is and that’s what we basically reimburse those people for. Now, some people feel like they should get the retail rate for the power they put back in, but they really don’t understand our business because the generation is just a portion of the service we provide you. It takes a lot of money to basically install or maintain those poles and wires. Last year we spent over a million and a half dollars on maintainance on our electrical point and so obviously that’s a portion of what you too. And so, once again we’re a co-operative, we’re here to serve our members and what we’re doing is looking at what benefits our membership as a whole. Our board has taken the decision that the value of that electricity is the same as the value of the electricity that we buy from our wholesale providers. So that’s how we base that rate.
ST: Now there’s a target of twenty percent renewable I think by 2024. What your views on the viability of that? What would it take?
BS: One, it’s going to take a big investment to do that. And one thing that’s often overlooked when we talk about large scale renewables, be it wind here in the Midwest, or if you look at solar in the southwest part of the United States, it all comes down to transmission and having those assets that move the power from where it’s produced to where it needs to be consumed. This is something that we’ve shared with our state legislators for probably the last fifteen years or so, that without the means of transmitting that power, you can build all the wind or all the solar you want but if you can’t get it to where the people need to use it you’re really, basically, not making a pertinent investment. I’m not saying it’s not impossible to do, it’s going to make operating the grid very interesting because those resources are on and off very quickly. The thing that amazes me with our solar panels is I can look at those graphs and see immediately when a cloud rolls over, because that production drops. Immediately you’ll see it drop. Now, soon as the cloud goes by it comes back up. But obviously the physics involved in operating an electric utility are at the instant you want to consume a kilowatt hour of electricity, somewhere, someplace there’s a generator producing that kilowatt hour of electricity. So, our models have always been on having plants that are designed to run 24/7 and then you bring on other renewable sources as the load exceeds the capacity of those plants. So, the challenges on a 2025 or a 2020 plan for electric utilities is really one, the transmission and to integrate that into our systems, and two, revisiting how we basically operate the utilities so that we have service available to us 24/7.
JM: Our understanding from Tom Wind, talking to Tom Wind, who was a member of the Iowa Power Fund and wind consultant, is it seems like Iowa is pretty close to twenty percent of its electricity this year already which is pretty decent.
BS: It is, and that’s due to investments made primarily by mid-American. They’ve been at the forefront of this.
JM: There are those that feel about nuclear, particularly what’s happened in Japan, they have slowed down some of the steam on that you know we have talk of another in Iowa. Do you have any feelings on that?
BS: Well, I will tell you that co-operatives in Iowa and also the co-operatives in Missouri that we’re affiliated with are very supportive of investing in nuclear. Long term, if we are going to reduce our carbon emissions, it’s probably the one viable resource we have for base load electric generation. I’m an engineer so I look at it that’s it’s really an engineering issue as to how to basically build nuclear power plants. We’ve had a terrific track record in the United States with the nuclear fleet that we’ve operated here for the last fifty years. From a technological standpoint we certainly think that nuclear is a viable option for us. And we’re encouraging the development of nuclear so we can add that as part of our portfolio. We’ve got a big investment in coal, and if we’re going to basically idle those coal plants to reduce the emissions then we’re gonna have to have something other than natural gas as a base load generation.
ST: Aren’t they incredibly expensive though? Nuclear power stations, new nuclear power stations and issues with insurance? And obviously what you do with the waste material.
BS: Those are financing issues and technical issues, but I would tell you that the studies that I’ve seen compared to any kind of CO2 sequestering infer fossil fuel plants, nuclear is actually a more economically viable option. If we have a carbon tax imposed on carbon emissions in this country, as clean as natural gas is, natural gas still has a carbon emissions that you have to address. And so we need to have some type of base load option available to us. And so yes, they’re expensive but any type of generation is going to be expensive to build and operate. Unfortunately, storing the amounts of electric energy that we need available at the speed of light, one, technology is not there to basically do it, and the technology that is available to do it certainly has a whole host of departmental issues surrounding the manufacturing of those types of equipment too. I tell young people when I talk to them about energy efficiency that if one of you kids basically figures an economical way of storing electric energy, then you will basically revolutionize life as we know it and plus, probably exceed Bill Gates in wealth. So, it’s really the Holy Grail, but that said if you perfect those technologies what that does is it drives the cost of a nuclear power plant down and any other type of generation because if I run a nuclear power plant and store the energy that it’s producing at night when the load comes down that drives the per unit cost of the power plant down to where it becomes more economically viable than some of the alternatives, so.
ST: Interesting. Yes, well there you go there’s a challenge for everyone out there. Get your pencil and paper out and start working away. James and I will be in the car on the way back.
JM: That’s right Stuart, it doesn’t seem that hard. I mean your just storing it not even generating.
ST: Well, you know we’re media guys. We’re clever.
JM: It’s called the Dream Green Series, right? Well, Bob Swindell, we really appreciate you taking some time on this beautiful day. There’s a breeze going now, we actually got to a little bit of a shady spot. I’m wondering just looking forward, obviously you’ve been in the business a long time, what do you see as a mix for Iowa going forward? The economic times seem a little bit stingy and possibly for the foreseeables, but in terms of energy, what do you see as a mix for Iowa?
BS: Certainly wind is going to play a big role here in Iowa because we’re blessed with that resource, I think you’re gonna see a lot of interest in natural gas here in Iowa, some of that infrastructure already has been put in place. I think that you’ll see improvements made to reduce the emissions from our existing coal fleet. I think that coal will be around at least for the remainder of my lifetime, probably the next thirty forty years we’ll still have some coal. I don’t really envision there being much new coal fire generation built, there’s just too much uncertainty around that. I think nuclear has got to be a piece of our energy future here in Iowa, even with the issues surrounding that. But I think that has got to be a portion of our portfolio going forward too.
JM: Ok. I didn’t hear anything about solar.
BS: Oh, well solar is obviously an option for us. I think for solar I think we’re going to have to see the price of the facilities come down. They’re still not competitive with those other sources. Now, once again if there’s incentives there, if the technology improves, I know there’s a lot of research going on to make solar more efficient.
JM: Spoken not only like a CEO but a true engineer. This is very good. Stuart?
ST: Yeah, we’re talking about the weather, obviously today is an extremely hot day. We’ve had quite a few of them recently. Weather is a factor for you guys as well because obviously you get storms and there’ve been more of them and they do quite a lot of damage and so on. So what’s your commentary on that in terms of the more extreme weather events and possible sort of costs for you?
BS: The way we approach it is, is we believe our investment in maintaining our systems are the key to basically addressing any kind of weather events that we deal with. And I don’t really want to come across as a skeptic here because I do believe that we’re basically seeing some change in our climate here, but I also know that it was hotter than this in 1955 and I know the hottest days that we ever experienced since we’ve been keeping records here in Iowa happened in the mid-1930’s. We’re always going to have to deal with weather events, I’m more concerned today about people being able to afford electricity than I am the impacts of a warming planet.
JM: Fair enough. My perspective has always been regardless of that where you stand on that spectrum, it makes sense to, what was that comment, you said at the very beginning? Need what you use, and use what you need. I mean that barometer kind of makes the other one, let’s have the discussion but let’s do that and figuring out a good spot. But that’s just me. Stuart you wanted to.
ST: That’s a good place to round up on really. The message from you, Bob Swindell, for people out there in terms of the best strategy for them to avoid what is increasing costs for people in terms of energy costs.
BS: That’s very true. If we take advantage of the efficiencies that new technology avail us then obviously you can enjoy that lifestyle with a smaller energy footprint. And that’s my position and Access Energy’s position is, is that we need to be as efficient as we can, but we don’t need to sacrifice our lifestyles to do that.
JM: One other question I wanted to ask Bob is about the number of employees you have. Green jobs are such a premium these days. Give us a little breakdown there for Access Energy.
BS: Well, Access Energy employs forty-three people here in southeast Iowa. We have employees here in Mount Pleasant, we also have a construction outpost in Fairfield, Iowa. As far as green jobs, I would say they’re all green jobs because we’re trying to be good environmental stewards and our mission from our board is safe, reliable, and efficient energy service while maintaining an environmental responsibility. So, I would say based on that mission from our board, all forty-three of us are green workers.
JM: But I thought you were going to say green because they pay. What about the website if folks want to check that out?
JM: Pretty darn simple. Well there you have it. It’s really been great. I know you have hundreds of people here. Keep up the great work. We will look forward to speaking with you down the road on what exactly you do find with the sun, the solar energy compared to the wind. I know there’s some talk of smaller wind for people as well. It seems like they’re working in that direction too. I don’t know about the algae thing but I guess there’s some folks behind that. It’s a time to try stuff. Any final thoughts Stuart?
ST: Yeah, actually I think it’s time for you to get on one of those tractors, being a local James, and show how you drive one.
JM: My grandparents were dairy farmers so that doesn’t mean anything, because where I grew up we visited the farm, my uncle’s farm, but I was one of those guys who ran from the cows and they would laugh at. So there you go, that’s my background.
ST: And so would I, I have to say if I saw that. Are there any cows here we can go visit?
BS: There’s some ponies over there.
JM: Well thank you, Bob.
ST: Let’s try the ponies on James, see what happens.
JM: Well on that note we’re gonna wonder around just a little bit more, look at some of the exhibits and catch a little bit of the music. But we do appreciate your time and good luck with everything on this day of celebration for Access Energy annual get together here. Thanks so much for the time Bob.
BS: Well, thank you. I appreciate your interest in the co-operative and I appreciate the efforts you’re doing to educate the folks of Iowa about what’s available to them and what we really can accomplish working together.
JM: Thanks, fantastic. This is Stuart Tanner and James Moore with the Dream Green Series on solar-powered KRUU FM. We’ll be back in just a moment.
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