DG 17 Transcript – Focus on Fairfield
Ed Malloy: The city of Fairfield in 2008 produced a plan, a comprehensive plan or a strategic plan, to look at all elements of the community in terms of sustainability. How is it that we can improve what we have within our built infrastructure, within our local economy, within our environment directly to do more to create a sustainable society and a sustainable future? The issue of sustainability really forces us or at least entices us to think how it is that we can change our behaviors, change the ways that we interact with our environment. It’s a cultural shift, it’s a cultural change. And I felt that what was most important in our community at the time was leadership in this area, to give it a face, to give it a definition. Because we have so many wonderful people who are ahead of the curve in making that kind of transition within our own community we wanted to learn from them, we wanted to bolster what they were doing, we wanted to broaden it throughout the whole community.
Amy Greenfield: One of the big principles out here is we’ve been able to put in a relatively small energy system. As everyone knows, renewable energies are very expensive and we put our systems in without any government assistance, or any grants or anything like that. So, it was really important that we design a house that would be very efficient. The main requirement is the house should not exceed 300 kilowatt hours of energy a month. This house, I monitored it a couple different times, and it’s using about 100-150. The average house in Fairfield uses 1,500 kilowatts a month. So, for my house that’s a 90% reduction in energy use. And as you can see I’ve got a flat screen TV, I’m not sacrificing.
Troy VanBeek: I realized that one of the cornerstones of making this happen was through energy efficiency. So, that’s really how we started Ideal Energy and we’ve been going ever since. It’s something the community needs. We have to look at energy efficiency first, and what we’re really involved in now is renewable energy. So, energy efficiency first and then the implementation of renewable energies is much more cost effective.
Scott Timm: I work with Iowa State University extension in their community and economic development unit. So, my position is actually state-wide and I work with a number of different cities and communities doing work in green planning and looking at how their communities form policy, work with businesses, that sort of thing and in terms of sustainability. I work a lot and am connected with people in Iowa City, and Dubuque, and Des Moines, Ames, really larger communities but Fairfield is one of the only smaller communities that is really stepping up to the plate.
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 we are entering Abundance EcoVillage as we speak. This is James Moore with Stuart Tanner, part of the Dream Green Series here on solar-powered KRUU-FM. I remember when it was almost just a field a number of years ago. As we enter now on the left we’re seeing some, not massive, wind towers moving slowly, we see a number of houses now across the landscape and a bus there that I just happen to know is run by vegetable oil, and we see a smiling face driving by. Stuart, give me your impressions.
Stuart Tanner: We can play some games here can’t we, James? We can play the game of Spot the Wind Turbine, I can see three, three so far. They’re not the big 2 million version turbines, they’re small I suppose domestic versions. But they’re all happily spinning in the breeze. And also, we can play the Solar Panel game and there’s a few arrays on a number of houses already. So, this is a renewable energy zone you could say. And we’re off to see Amy, Amy Greenfield, and Troy. Amy Greenfield who lives in the house which was a green field, we went to see Tom Wind about wind. So, it’s all fitting in nicely.
JM: Not sure how Troy Van Beek fits in there but we’ll leave that to your imagination.
ST: Absolutely. Well, we’ve got a sky in the distance which is dark and brooding some rain which I think everyone around here will be glad of now since we’ve had such a heat wave.
JM: Across the way there we see a sustainable building I remember that went up as part of the features here towards the house that we’ll be hearing about that Troy Van Beek and Amy Greenfield have put up here. They’ve also been involved with some very interesting work with a company called Ideal Energy in the area working on energy audits and now quite a bit with solar power installations and working with different government programs and so forth. We are we’ll be there shortly, we’ll be talking with them, thanks for joining us right here on the Dream Green Series. Don’t go anywhere.
JM: And there you can hear the birds, as we have now come to a halt about ready to enter the Greenfield-Van Beek residence here. Hope you can hear those birds. As a matter of fact you can hear a plane going overhead as well. We’re not hearing any whir from the smaller wind turbines just a ways a way, but we do see solar arrays and I see over just across to the next house that those arrays are on a pivoting structure not solidly in. When they’re on a pivoting structure like that they’re able to follow the sun’s trajectory. Beautiful stone layout here, fenced around, red doors for those of the viewers who can’t see it. That’s right, this is radio. Sunflower pots out front, solar lights, that’s right. Knock on the door and say hi to Troy and Amy.
JM: And there she is, Amy Greenfield. How you doing?
Amy Greenfield: Good, how are you?
JM: We’re great. We are delighted to make the journey out here. We’ve just been describing the entranceway, it’s so beautiful. Anything you want to talk about from the outside before we go in?
AG: Let’s see. Well, this is a high performance home, it was designed to be highly energy efficient and have really good thermal use of heating and cooling so we’ve been able to greatly minimize the amount of electricity we need and also the thermal inputs to the amount of heating and cooling that we need. That’s one of the things that makes the Eco-Village so special and lets us maximize the use of our solar and wind system.
JM: That’s what makes the Eco-Village so eco I guess. So, geothermal beneath us as well?
AG: Yes, it’s a geothermal system called the Earth Air Tubes that was specifically designed for this region. Basically it’s sucking air underneath the ground and it’s, depending on the season, either preheating or precooling the air and that’s being circulated around the house 24 hours a day, so it’s also our fresh air circulation system.
JM: Except when bozos come and leave the front door open right here when it’s 100 degrees out. We’ll come on in into the building. Give the doors a shut, not quite red I would say ‘auburn’ or something like that. And yes, now we’re walking into the house.
ST: Isn’t this gorgeous, yeah I love your color choices as well, I have to say.
AG: Thank you.
ST: Very good, yeah lovely.
JM: We’ve been in a lot of LEED buildings lately and we’ve noticed they all have a certain kind of freshness and flavor and certainly lightness as part of the components. Why don’t you give us a quick rundown from the inside here. What do we have?
AM: Well, there’s a couple special things about this house, one is that we paid very careful attention to eco-architecture design. The walls are twice as thick as your average wall. We designed a system where there are two frames actually they are sandwiched inside of each other and the studs are staggered. What this does is it actually eliminates thermal bridging, so tiny spaces where air could escape or be drawn in from outside. That’s one of the things that makes the thermal performance of the home so excellent. And in addition to that we’ve got 10 inches of cellulose packed into those walls, so we are not losing any heat in the winter. Our window placement was selected very carefully according to passive solar heat gain in the winter and then we’ve got overhangs on the south side that were calculated at such a distance so that we won’t have direct sunlight coming in and overheating the house in the summer months when we don’t want it. So, those were some of the main principles that we were paying attention to as we were designing.
ST: I see someone shot a rare albino stag up there.
AG: Hand-carved out of wood.
JM: My brother-in-law would love that, although his seem to have a little more fur on them. It’s a bust of a deer I believe.
AG: Yes, that’s correct.
JM: Let’s talk about square footage here. Big kitchen.
AG: Yeah, this house is 1,600 sq. feet. It’s sort of meant for two people, although I think a young family could live here as well. What I did with this particular house design was I kept the living room, dining room and kitchen all open so there is one sort of open central space and that helps to make that smaller footprint feel less claustrophobic and feel really open.
ST: It’s a very social design when you have it like this as well because it means that whoever is assigned for the cooking that given evening is still able to interact socially and you don’t have to walk between the kitchen and the living area. I know because my house is built like that in Oxford.
JM: Well, let’s just take a further look in and see we have the sky lighting which is generally a feature of this type of approach. Talk to me about that.
AG: Well, I have a skylight up there that’s operable and goes all the way up through the attic space to the roof above. If it’s overheating in the summertime I can open up a couple windows on either side of the house and then that skylight at night and then that will cool the house right down. For the most part we actually don’t have air-conditioning in these houses, we’re using the air tube system which in this past heat wave was keeping our house at about 78-79 degrees which is pretty comfortable when it’s 100 outside.
AG: Amy, we’ll talk more about the EcoVillage itself. Why don’t you give a little rundown on the generals. Do you know how many houses are here and so forth?
AG: Yeah, definitely. There’s thirteen houses that are at the EcoVillage right now. The whole village itself was designed to accommodate about twenty-two households. We can’t really expand beyond that, that’s what we designed our systems for. We basically have our own little eco-utility system, if you want to call it that, out here at the EcoVillage which includes we’re collecting and harvesting rainwater for two different purposes. Grade-one water comes off our roofs and is being stored in cisterns that are located close to clusters of homes, and basically that water gets purified in about four or five different ways before it actually enters the house so we’ve got beautiful clean water that’s not treated with chemicals. That’s quite an amazing feature. The second-grade of water goes into our toilets and for gardening and for things like that, and it’s non-potable water. And actually, we’re just pumping water out of a swimming pond that we have on the back half of the property and it goes through some light filtrations. In terms of our energy systems, we are harvesting energy from the wind and the sun and basically everything goes into a centralized battery bank and from there it’s distributed into the various neighborhoods and households. We don’t meter our electricity per house, that’s not really necessary. We do have backup onto Access Energy’ grid, so basically what happens with our system is as we fill up our battery bank which was designed to store enough power to last for about three days, and then any overflow power will go onto Access Energy’s grid, and likewise if we have a power failure for whatever reason then we seamlessly take electricity off of the grid.
JM: Have there been any of those stoppages for more than three days with the batteries?
AG: Every once in a while. Actually, when I first moved out here there was a week, a very bizarre week, where it was extremely cloudy and there was no wind. Towards the end of the week we started drawing some power from Access.
ST: Also, they pay you for that energy, presumably, that you export to the grid.
AG: I’m not quite sure what the arrangement is. I think that we sort of do more of a give and take where we calculate credit. I don’t think we have a net metering agreement with them.
ST: Still it is amazing to hear someone say we don’t meter our electricity. For everyone out there looking at their utilities bills every month, that’s quite an incredible statement.
JM: What does that mean? How does that work then for people, what you’re paying here?
AG: The way the village is set up, we pay a Homeowners Association fee of $100 a month and that goes to maintain all our equipment, we put a little bit aside into a savings account so as we have to replace filters and batteries and things like that in the future, there will be money for that. Just like the utility grid, utility provider whether it’s Alliant Energy or Access Energy they have maintenance and we have maintenance on our wind and things like that. So, $100 a month really isn’t that bad. And nobody pays for electricity, nobody pays for the water, nobody pays for waste treatment. Our Homeowners Association fee also includes extensive recycling and trash removal program we have for household waste. Since we’re in the county we have to provide our own waste management services. Household waste, kitchen scraps or things like that. Kitchen scraps we actually encourage people to compost if they want to. It’s not a requirement. Then we have all sorts of recycling located up near the front of the development there, glass, newspaper, cardboard, all the typical stuff. Basically they come once a week and remove our trash. We also have our own waste treatment system here which is a constructed wetland which is similar to a septic system only basically we’re running things through a series of reed fields and the water is being purified on the other end and collected in a small pond we can use for watering the trees and things like that.
JM: A little bit of a history of the place or EcoVillage, do you know that as well?
AG: Yes. The EcoVillage was started in about 2000 by Lonnie Gamble and Michael Halvalka. Lonnie is a professor at the Sustainable Living Department and Michael has a background in Biochemistry. They both have been living off the grid on very similar systems to the EcoVillage that were just designed for a single family. Both of them had so many people over the years saying hey, can you do it for me, can you design something for me, so they actually decided to design a whole village. I became involved in the project about five years ago. I started helping with the development aspect, building more houses that were spec houses.
JM: Obviously this is something that has taken root almost, well not fully developed, there’s still more room, but a number of houses available. What does a house like this run?
AG: This particular house ends up costing about $300,000 to build. I would say if someone was looking to build out here they could probably be expecting to spend about that much. Obviously it depends what you’re going to do with your interior finishes. I’ve seen a lot of different styles of building over the years, and I’ve really come to strongly believe you either pay for your house upfront or you pay for it through the life of owning it. So, I think it’s so much better to spend a little bit more money up front, do the extra insulation and pay for the more expensive windows. If you want to upgrade your house over time, maybe upgrade the interior finishes but make sure the shell is really, really good. Then you’re hardly spending anything on your utilities. You just don’t know what’s going to happen to the cost of utilities in the future.
JM: I think we know it’s not going to go down, that’s the one thing we probably know. Unless a lot of people start using some different practices.
ST: What about some of the other houses that you visited in the EcoVillage or you know about? Do some of them have other unique features?
AG: Let’s see. A lot of them follow the similar design principles. One of the big principles out here is that we’ve been able to put in a relatively small energy system. As everyone knows renewable energy is very expensive and we put our systems in without any government assistance or any grants or anything like that. So, it was really important that we design a house that would be highly efficient. The main requirement is the house should not exceed 300 kilowatt hours of energy a month. This house I monitored it a couple different times and it is using around 100-150. The average house in Fairfield uses 1,500 kilowatt hours a month, so for my house that’s a 90% reduction in energy use. And as you can see I have a flat screen TV, I’m not sacrificing. This is really typical for most of the homes. I think that it’s a good philosophy to go with a one story or a story and a half. Most of the homes out here are a one story. It’s just easier to deal with the cooling load in the summer time, second stories can get a little warmer. One of the great features of the EcoVillage is some of the residents, Bill and Stacey Hurlin, started a little guest-house which I think that they rent pretty reasonably by the night. They have a lot of people coming through just wanting to check out the EcoVillage and there’s four rooms available or you can rent the whole house. And actually it’s a great feature for the EcoVillage because a lot of the times we’re trying to build smaller houses and if we have guests coming and we can’t accommodate them all then we have some place for them to stay.
ST: It sounds like you thought of everything, but is there something missing?
AG: Permaculture design. The whole development, all of our landscaping was carefully thought out. most of our landscaping serves a purpose, there’s a few things that are more ornamental, but trees were planted in certain locations for wind breaks, there’s a lot of fruit and nut trees, there’s a little vineyard that some of the residents have started. A lot of the gardens are filled with herbs and wildflowers that serve a medicinal purpose. Also, we don’t want to be spending a lot of time maintaining our landscape, so we do a lot of intentional plantings that can actually be used for a purpose. In front of my house there’s actually a rye field, at a certain point in the year it actually gets harvested, and a nearby farm is using that rye.
ST: That still sounds like having thought of everything. There’s got to be something that if you did it again you’d add or subtract.
AG: Well, let’s see. This is located on 15 acres, there’s not really room for the development to expand. I think that there’s only six more lots available for sale so it’s pretty limited in how many individuals it can accommodate. So, I think it would be interesting to have a development where you can continue to scale it up. One thing I think Lonnie and Michael really did intelligently was they designed the systems that they could be built in stages. When there were only three houses out here the systems were so big and they gradually expanded as more houses have come. So, I would say perhaps on a piece of land where there would be more room for expansion.
ST: You said this is all done without any grants or support, government or anything, but do such things exist? Or really you are on your own?
AG: They do exist. It’s definitely a big game going after grants and everything, I mean you never know what you’re going to get, what kind of support you’re going to have. I know that grants are geared toward specifically with renewable energies, they’re more geared toward building up an industry and not so much setting up a group of people so they can live quietly and self-sufficiently. I mean normally they have a theme behind them like low-income or something like that. We’ve done things where it’s pretty affordable, its $40,000 to buy a lot out here and that includes all of your water and electricity and waste treatment and so all that gets hooked right into the house.
JM: Well, I know we want to talk with Troy VanBeek as well about this very subject. I know you guys are involved with the company called Ideal Energy, Troy was involved with the Go Green Plan and this is sort of an overall focus we’re doing with the mayor and Scott Timm and others. We’ve been to Dubuque and Davenport and seen amazing work done in a lot of communities. Fairfield has sustainability coordinator Scott Timm here, we want to talk with you about the work you guys have been doing in terms of energy audits from the Go Green Plan, and now some really exciting stuff we’re hearing about solar installations of pretty significant nature so should we invite Troy into the conversation?
AG: Yeah, we can buzz around the corner here to our off-grid office.
JM: Off-grid office, that sounds like almost a bar and grill. At any rate, Troy VanBeek we’ll bring into the discussion. Troy, if our understanding is correct, you’re part of the Go Green Commission, you also were, I believe, a Navy Seal for nine years, you’ve been working doing installations with Ideal Energy. We had wanted to talk to you about that before, but I want to jump into that right now. I see Ideal Energy on the shirt so I think we’re in the right place. How are you doing?
Troy VanBeek: Very good.
JM: Good to see you. Tell us a little bit about the Go Green Commission.
TV: Yeah, it was about 18 months long, it was a process of pulling in a number of the stake holders in the community and discussing the issues that can bring about sustainability. So, we work together, meet every month, it was a handpicked crew by Mayor Ed Malloy. We compiled a plan based on input we gathered from the community. When we completed we put it into a document, got buy-in from the businesses locally and got them to agree that these are some of the improvements we can make to our town and achieve better overall footprint in our community.
JM: Great, so that brought quite a bit of attention to the community. I think the mayor ended up getting one of the top fifteen sustainable mayors in the country based on this plan. And from that plan, was Ideal Energy already going, or did it kind of form out of that?
TV: Yeah, I think from this committee actually I realized one of the cornerstones of making this happen was through energy efficiency. So, that’s really how we started Ideal Energy and we’ve been going ever since. It’s something the community really needs. We have to look at energy efficiency first, and what we’re really involved in now is renewable energy. So, energy efficiency first and then the implementation of renewable energies is much more cost effective.
JM: Well, we’ve been hearing that every place we’ve travelled, all across the state. First thing, most effective thing, energy efficiency.
ST: How are all these things financed? Obviously, that’s part of the challenging part, how you put together money to support projects like that.
TV: Well, that’s been a big piece of the puzzle. There are incentives available right now, we really lined up a bunch of incentives up this year. We’ve been working really hard to provide these to the community. There are excellent grants, some of them are provided by USDA Wheat Grant which is a Rural Energy America grant. And there’s also the Federal Grant 30%, the re-grant is 25%. And we’ve been working hard to write grants for the community. That coupled with tax incentives, there’s an MACRS tax incentive that allows us to depreciate the system the first year, 100% of the system. So, a couple of these together and we’re able to provide almost a 90% reduction in the gross system cost. So it’s absolutely fantastic and there’s also benefits through Alliant as well and for commercial businesses it’s really excellent.
JM: Let’s talk about that. You’ve made some headway, there’s some exciting news, some businesses jumping on board. Is that correct?
TV: We took the time and wrote seven grants for the community this year and that was quite an effort. We’re very excited about it I think we have the granting system, the USDA is very excited to work with us because they see what we’re actually doing. The grant for the USDA has traditionally been more directed at the horticultural community and it still is for the most part these grants have been utilized for grain dryers and things like that. Well, I know that they really want to break into renewable energies, and this has been one of those opportunities for them. We really have high hopes that they’re going to see the value in what we’re doing. I know we spelled it out quite well for them because of the support we have in the community of Fairfield, it’s like none other, so we’re very excited that those will come through for us.
JM: This means a lot of people are stepping up. We also heard from Hy-vee that it was the community that drew that beautiful LEED building to the community, so sometimes people say how do I make a difference, well sometimes everyone collectively together, they do make a difference in a heartbeat.
ST: Can we see the geothermal system?
TV: We have to step outside to do it, but absolutely.
JM: Fantastic. We’re going to follow Amy and Troy out to the geothermal system.
AG: We can start right here. Basically this is where it enters into the house. What we have here are a series of tubes that are servicing from 12 feet underneath the earth’s surface, they are going through a hospital grade air filter here and fresh air is being cycled throughout the house all day long on a very low velocity. If you were to put your hand up on those registers over there you can feel cool air coming through.
JM: The Marx Brothers live. Oh man we need video. You just missed that. Stuart and I crashed into the wall together. Anyway, we’re going to head outside here to see the outside aspect of the geothermal. By the way, I love the way you’ve laid this out, so homey. I don’t know quite how to describe it, but it’s a great style right here. Go ahead Amy.
AG: We like spending time outdoors. When we were first putting in the system and it was the first day of construction, I came out here and just about had a heart attack because there’s basically what looks like an enormous moat going around my foundation. This is not a system that you would want to put underneath the foundation because that limits access to it if there’s ever a problem at some point and something should need to be dug up, we would know exactly where to dig and I would not want to be tunneling under the house. Now we’re standing in front of the air intake which essentially looks like a tiny little doghouse which is attached to the backside of the home and inside there are four tubes that are surrounded by some filters and basically they are taking air in at a low velocity. These tubes are a very similar plastic that milk cartons are made out of, so they are a food grade type of plastic so we’re not sucking a lot of VOCs or stuff like that in from the plastic in the tubes themselves. So basically from there they drop 12 feet underneath the earth’s surface and wrap around the house up to the front. We get a ton and a half of cooling out of the system. There is a drainage field that’s located, this is not a do-it-yourself kind of system, there is a drainage field that’s located near the tubes because as air is coming down into the tubes in the summer creating a cooler temperature the air is condensing and there’s a fair amount of moisture that’s coming off that system before it comes into the house. So, we want to drain that away properly so it doesn’t build up and cause mold or mildew problems over time.
JM: so simple. The thing I love about geo is why not use the thing that’s sitting there all the time anyway. How much do these cost?
AG: It’s about a $10,000 system including the hvac unit that it’s attached to. You know there’s all sorts of different systems that can be used. This worked well for the EcoVillage, but now that energy efficiency is really coming up to the forefront, there’s lots of different things you can do. This seems to be working really well.
JM: Well, great. We’ve got a little wind out here.
ST: Unity windmill, that’s the biggest one over there.
AG: Yeah, there’s two of them over there. We have a three-kilowatt and a five-kilowatt turbine turning today. A little bit of wind, so that’s generating electricity. It’s also partially sunny so we’re getting energy from the sun. The other thing that I would say actually, I moved here about two years ago, I always thought of whatever was going on in the weather was always a little bit of a nuisance. It’s too windy today, it’s rainy or whatever, but now I actually know that all of those weather changes are actually serving a purpose. We’re having a windy day, I know we’re filling our battery banks, if it’s raining, our cisterns are full.
ST: The weather is powering your big flat screen TV.
JM: Back to Ideal Energy, we’re hearing some pretty exciting developments in terms of some solar installations in town. Anything we’re able to talk about at this point?
TV: We’re kind of waiting on those grants to come through because for those grants it’s such a large portion of the gross system costs, but I think it would be fair to mention that there is some businesses out there like Sky Factory and they’re looking at 100% being covered through solar energy and that would be absolutely amazing. It would be a fantastic solar field. They’ve got the right name for it, the Sky Factory. They’re a great business model, there’s so many good things to say about the Sky Factory. And if they would be able to get this it would be fantastic because not only will it look fantastic out at their place of business, they would be powered 100% off the grid and the new trailhead is passing right by them so those out there enjoying nature will get to pass by and see what a solar field looks like. It would be over 270 panels so it would be quite a sight, and be really fantastic.
JM: Is it safe to say that would be adding some green jobs?
TV: Absolutely. We would be training and hiring more employees to help us do the implementation of this. And we’re just getting started. We intend on making this a big industry here in Fairfield, because I know the more we put in the more we’re going to be able to hold down the price. Obviously we’re fuel costs, the demand for solar is going to continue to go up through that the prices will keep going down is what we expect. So, we’re just getting rolling here.
JM: Anything else Troy that you want to add to the equation here?
TV: Well, Amy did you tell them about Chuck Culver coming out yesterday?
AG: Former governor Chuck Culver saw us on the news a couple weeks ago, we were featured on KCII and he was planning a little visit to Fairfield anyway to visit Francis Thicke and so we got a little visit from Governor Culver. He actually had some pretty exciting ideas regarding driving the cost down of renewable energy on a small scale so those are some ideas we’re going to be expanding on in the future, some really innovative stuff.
ST: Wow, that’s excellent news, and thanks for showing us around. It’s been fascinating, a real pleasure actually. I think we’ll come back when there’s tomatoes that are ripe. Try some of the local salad.
JM: Sounds good to me. We’ll sign off for now, Stuart and I will try not to trip over the fence here. Thank you guys so much and keep up the great work. We’ll be back with the Dream Green series in just a moment on solar powered KRUU-FM.
JM: This is James Moore. Welcome to another segment here on the Dream Green Series on solar powered KRUU-FM. We are today going to be speaking about a subject at least near to our heart, and that is Fairfield. We are going to be focusing on some of the great sustainability and energy efficiency efforts that have been going on in the town, the city that is known for its entrepreneurialism and its forward thinking in this regard. Of course joining me in the studio my co-host Stuart Tanner and also today we have the asteemed mayor, the esteemed; yes it’s been very warm as well, but the esteemed mayor of Fairfield, Ed Malloy. Ed, it is great to see you. How are you doing today?
Ed Malloy: Great James thanks. A pleasure to be here and a pleasure to be a part of this series, it’s very exciting.
JM: It’s also nice to speak with someone who has been awarded by msn.com, one of the most sustainable mayors in the country. I think in the top four or five, if I remember correctly. Partly on the basis of a great committee, commission that looked at some sustainable issues that brought people together to get community buy-in. Do you want to talk about that just a little bit?
EM: Sure James. The city of Fairfield in 2008 produced a plan, a comprehensive plan or a strategic plan to look at all elements of the community in terms of sustainability. How is it that we can improve what we have within our built infrastructure, within our local economy, within the environment directly to do more to create a sustainable society, a sustainable future? The reason we took this on on a community-wide basis is because we recognized that it really is about changing the culture. You know we all live very innocently by things that we formed as habit and things that we do that we don’t think about and I think the issue of sustainability really forces us or at least entices us to think how it is that we can change our behaviors and change the ways that we interact with our environment. And it’s a cultural shift, a cultural change, and I felt what was most important in our community at the time was leadership in this area, to give it a face, to give it a definition because we have so many wonderful people who are ahead of the curve in making that kind of transition within our own community, we wanted to learn from them, we wanted to bolster what they were doing, we wanted to broaden it throughout the whole community.
JM: I’m wondering if we could talk just a little bit about the Go Green Commission, just some details.
EM: Well James, it really started back in 2002 and that was six years before we published our plan and in 2002 we had a local commission that I appointed to do a general strategic plan for the city of Fairfield. Fairfield had so much creative potential, so many wonderful people willing to make a contribution and I really wanted to convene all of those people to see what the outcome would be to give a direction to Fairfield over a 10 year period of time. And during that discussion sustainability came out. But in choosing that commission I really wanted to make sure that every aspect of the community was represented because that’s the only way you could really test all the ideas for their tolerance and their acceptance by the broad community. Sustainability had a low tolerance and a low acceptance level in 2002, so we did have some goals that were included in our plan which were quite general, they talked about becoming a knowledge center for sustainability and I think we might have even mentioned some demonstration projects, but beyond that it didn’t really have very much support. It certainly wasn’t one of the higher priorities that came out of that plan. But five or six years later the environment had really changed. I felt I had more political capitol to spend on that issue, so what I did was convene another commission, we had 22 members and there were members of the University faculty and students of Fairfield community schools, the business community, bankers, both city and county government, we had people who were experts or lived in homes that were LEED certified or had renewable energy systems involved, so we had a good mix of people. Also, we had members of our manufacturing community, the industrial community because I believe there are great opportunities for those companies as well. And the process that we go through is to make each of these particular objectives a priority, get everyone to agree on that, then we will create a strategy for how we’re going to accomplish it. It’s a general statement about how it’s going to be done, what organizations are going to be involved, and then we identify organizations that will take the lead responsibility and others that will take a secondary responsibility and we go out and make a presentation to each of those organizations and ask them to sign on so that they will become a part of this as well. That’s the way to really broaden it throughout the community, and that’s an important part of the process. So when we were done we had about forty different organizations that had signed on, we had 39 objectives. One of our objectives was to hire a sustainable living coordinator for the city of Fairfield, whom you’ve interviewed, Scott Timm. Scott has been a tremendous asset, we’ve developed a wonderful partnership with Iowa State University extension that has allowed us to manage and see that this plan is being sheparded and orchestrated throughout the community.
ST: Can you talk to us about some of the key aspects of the plan? Some concrete examples of some of the things that are being done or will be coming up.
EM: Yes, one of the first things that we did within the city is to take the lead in terms of evaluating the buildings that we have for their own energy efficiency so we put together a plan to review all of our buildings and do an energy audit for each of them and this was professionally done in conjunction with our utility, online energy and engineering firm to do a thorough evaluation. What came out of that were many changes in the energy systems, in the lighting, in the insulation, in the design of buildings, and what we were able to do was put together a program of about a half a million dollars to do these upgrades to all of our city buildings with the prospect of receiving 50% of that back in rebates and a grant opportunity we received from the state of Iowa. We are just about complete with that process and we’re going to be monitoring our energy savings but as a demonstration and taking leadership in that area we want to do that. The other thing is that by having a plan in place we basically said to everyone that is looking at our community that this is one of our priorities, this is something that is important to us. So when Hy-vee decides to build a new store they make a decision to build a Gold LEED certified building, the first one in Iowa, because of what we have done. Kum-n-Go who has had a business for many years here in Fairfield, several decades, are building a new store which will be a LEED certified building, they are also taking LEED in a very critical watershed area of our city to do good storm water management processes as a demonstration project on behalf of all of our sustainable efforts as well. We start to see those cultural changes. In the area of economy, the couple of areas we really want to focus on there is to develop that green technology sector there. We have local companies that are coming together to develop solar energy and there’s been a lot of research going into that and there’s great opportunities for commercial buildings to be involved in that and a great return investment. I came from a meeting today with former Governor Chet Culver who’s representing a small wind turbine company out of Austin, Texas who is looking to market their very unique technology of small wind here in Iowa and we’re looking for ways to franchise that in Fairfield and really around the state, but again these are the calling card opportunities that come from the strategic focus. Local foods is something that I’m very proud of what is done within our community, but we also recognize that there’s an extraordinary opportunity there for economic development and growing and producing the value-added portion of locally grown and manufactured foods. Those are a couple of areas to touch on and I think we’re making some good progress on, but we want to see more visible elements of our sustainable features meaning wind turbines and solar arrays in our city.
JM: Sounds very good, and don’t forget geothermal or hybrid police cars. I think they have in Des Moines, but I do think we have LED lights for the stop lights. Is that correct?
EM: That was our first project, that all our traffic signals are LED lighting, yes. We also, as you’re probably aware, did a new contract for recycling and we were able to become part of a single stream recycling program through Waste Management, our provider, that move alone increased our recycling by as much as 70% monthly.
ST: I wanted to ask you about, how feasible do you think it is for a community the size of Fairfield, 10,000 people, to be able to generate its own energy to basically set up local energy generation on some scale?
EM: You know, there are political hurdles, there are financial risks, there’s a huge commitment you really make in doing that. So I believe what we’re going towards is opportunities for individual companies and homes to lead in that way and to show the rest of the community that there’s value in adding these renewable systems. It could lead us to a place where we say ok let’s look at the whole vision, let’s look at what it would be like to have 50% of our energy generated locally, which would be a huge undertaking just to have something like that. It is possible, it is possible. Do I believe the political will is there to do that now? No, I don’t. But I think as we move further down the road and sort of teach ourselves and show ourselves what is possible and as technology refines, we’ll probably see that opportunity in a different light. But the answer to your question is yes, I do believe it’s possible.
ST: Is there anything else you want to add in terms of things that might be on the horizon?
EM: What I’m very excited about now in terms of what James had mentioned, you know Iowa has demonstrated and shown leadership in wind technology and most of that has been at the commercial level. I would love to see the development of small wind projects and solar projects and I know there’s a very strong initiative right now, there’s as many as a dozen different businesses and buildings that are potentially going to have solar projects that will be built either this year or early next spring and I really want to see more of those elements again and just to demonstrate, to show that this is doable. It’s one of the most important iconic elements of Fairfield alone is right here on 2nd Street driving by the KRUU-FM studios and seeing those wonderful solar panels powering this radio station, so we want to join your station in demonstrating what the possibility is there.
ST: You’re doing a Dream Green Series it’s a great joy to start your program by saying you’re solar powered radio station, so that’s a great fit. You mentioned sustainable culture, now that’s an interesting phrase, so what did you mean by that?
EM: I believe that if we are going to make the transitions that we’re looking to, to a new class of fuels that will drive our transportation system to a distributed electric generation system that involves more renewable energy, that addresses the waste and the great need for the conservation of the resources and the awareness of resource conservation that we’re going to need people to just live differently, live differently than they do now and it’s a cultural shift. So I think one behavior at a time that shift in culture takes place and is something that we look and we mimic each other, styles change and fashion changes because of someone else is leading us in that direction, and in a very simple way we can do that in this behavioral change that will amount in a cultural shift for us to become more sustainable. So we won’t be thinking from outside what is it we can do to be more sustainable, we’ll be thinking from inside. Those become natural priorities as opposed to, oh yeah let’s think about this because it’s important. It will be there, it will be an internal natural priority for people and that’s the cultural shift that I’m talking about.
JM: The City Hall is looking quite nice now. I see there have been some changes there, and rumor has it that even in your office.
EM: Yeah, we have a light channel that comes in from the roof right now which I just completely enjoy when I’m working by myself I like working in the natural light. There are a number of upgrades there, we’re very happy with and we’re very proud. Hopefully we’re going to move into solar panel in City Hall sometime in the next couple years.
JM: Well, there you have it folks. From solar to solar, we’re dreaming green. We’ll be back in just a moment, keep it tuned right here.
JM: And this is James Moore. Joining me in the studio today is my cohost Stuart Tanner and our good friend Scott Timm who is the sustainability coordinator for Fairfield and the Jefferson County area also connected with the Iowa State University extension and we’re going to be talking with him today about all manner of green stuff. Getting a sense of where Iowa is coming from, where it’s at, and where it can go. Scott, always good to see you, how are you doing today?
Scott Timm: I’m doing great, thank you.
JM: Well, let’s start with sort of an assessment. Maybe just a little bit about how you’re coming into this field, where you’re at, where you think Iowa’s been, let’s start there.
ST: Sure, well I work with Iowa State University extension in their Community and Economic Development unit, so my position is actually statewide and I work with a number of different cities and communities doing work in green planning and looking at how their communities can form policies, work with businesses, that sort of thing in terms of sustainability. I work a lot and am connected with people in Iowa City, and Dubuque, and Des Moines, Ames. Really larger communities, but Fairfield is one of the only small communities that’s really stepping up to the plate and doing things. And I think when you’re talking about sustainability, cities are talking about how are we deal with transportation, how are we going to deal with population and energy use, and looking at all of these communities are just skyrocketing in the next 20-30 years, when if you look at the rest of the Midwest it’s like mass talent loss and population loss and how do small communities survive? How do we sustain what we have? How do we grow? How do we build successful small communities? So I find that area really interesting.
ST: When you ask the average punter, the person at the shopping mall and elsewhere what green initiatives are going on or what sustainability means, some have really caught onto it, many don’t really know, so I was wondering if you could give us an idea of where does it become important for those individuals? Where is it impacting their life?
ST: For many people it’s impacting their pocketbooks. For many communities people are figuring out I have rising energy costs, rising fuel costs, the cost of living is rising everywhere we go, how do I sustain a lifestyle here? And I think those are the questions people are mainly asking. They’re talking about local foods, they’re talking about energy efficiency, they’re talking about life in general. How do I not just lead a green life because it’s the right thing to do, because I have this set of moral values, but how do I make it from day to day with the resources that I have? So I think that’s the tact that a lot of people who are in my position, sustainability coordinators, take is where’s the common ground? It’s around conservation of natural resources. It’s around economic prosperity. It’s about the general definition of sustainability. How do we make sure that our children and successive generations have the same access to resources that we do.
ST: So if we take a community like Fairfield, or Dubuque, or communities who’ve gotten on board with this, what are examples of the changes that have taken place? Where’s the effect of the policy, the effect of the changes of planning?
ST: I think Dubuque is an incredible example. Most of the larger communities are actually doing really incredible work and each in really individual ways. Dubuque I think what makes them really unique is their engagement with the business community. They really saw from the beginning as go the business community, so goes the rest of the community. So they brought their chamber on board, they decided to really get their business community involved in everything they were doing. And because of their sustainability work, because of their planning and thinking about kind of a larger picture of what makes a sustainable community, they attracted IBM to come in and set up a headquarters and lots of new job development, but with that comes technology. So, their looking at low-flow water meter, real-time water metering systems, they’re looking at energy and other sustainable dashboard initiatives where they can really engage their citizens in day to day choices that affect sustainability, you know that’s one example. If you look at cities like Ames they have a really huge and incredible population that’s directly connected to Iowa State University, and the university is doing unbelievable things around sustainability. They have dorm challenges, they have departments on board, they’re doing energy work, they’re doing work with their food services, they’re really fantastic work and it’s starting to now spill out into the community and the city of Ames is saying ok, let’s look at our energy usage, and let’s look at our planning and can we develop a sustainability plan, can we bring in a coordinator full-time? How can we be a more sustainable city?
ST: So, it sounds like from those examples that already in certain communities there’s economic benefits. Perhaps there was a time where people looked at these things and thought about these things as being very much on the fringe and that you had to spend a lot of money upfront for maybe marginal returns that came after many, many years, but do you think that paradigm has shifted for many of these things?
ST: I do. I subscribe to the belief of bring on high energy prices. Bring all that on because the market is going to be what really change everything. So if the market is demanding cheaper sources of energy and we can have more renewable sources of energy, I think that’s what’s going to happen. I see that happening right now. I think the everyday perception that when I first came into this position that was the idea, the idea how do we make all this normal? How do we really bring sustainability into everybody’s conversation? How do make it feel alright? So, my neighbors are doing this, it’s not so crazy and I see they’re saving money here and benefiting that way. So I think a lot of it’s around behavioral change which is really challenging, but I also think there are market forces at work that will work to our benefit.
JM: There are two questions I have for you, I’ll ask the first one first, you mentioned about larger cities being involved more often with campaigns like this that, Fairfield for instance is a town of around 10,000, what do you think makes a possible scenario for smaller towns which there are many more of course to be able to start tapping into this type of thinking and action?
ST: I’m really interested in looking at that impact of smaller towns, so let’s tick them off, we have Dubuque, we have Ames, we have Iowa City, Burlington, and then there’s the rest of the state, what kind of impact does the rest of the state have? And when you look at things like distributed generation of electricity, that can be a really incredible impact. If you have every community doing medium-scale wind generation, you can really have a huge impact and you can really reduce the load and the amount of electricity that is coming from coal-fired power plants or nuclear-fired power plants. So, I think particularly in energy we can have a really big impact. And then I think Fairfield one of the things we do really well is we have a lot of real grassroots work that’s happening, community projects that are happening, educational programming that is happening, things that are getting off the ground on the grassroots level, people are organizing and coming together. But then we also have policy that is happening, the city is looking at flipping their entire book of code. Well, that’s a huge opportunity if you really think about it. Ok, let’s rewrite the book of code and think about energy efficiency, let’s look at our building code, let’s look at how we handle transportation, let’s look at zoning. Let’s look at all of those things, and this is really the time to do it. So, I think the potential impact is huge for small communities.
ST: Just wanted to thank you for coming in and talking with us. Obviously we’re from Fairfield so we’re shaking the, what do you call those, pom poms that’s right, in favor of all these developments. And we can, as James said, go out there and see these things transforming in the community and hear and live the benefits as they’re happening. It’s actually a very rich community and a very enriching community to live in. The green initiatives and sustainability is a very important part of that. So we’re all part of the story here in that respect.
JM: You know what I always say Stuart, it takes a village to be a village. And hopefully that village becomes a better village by doing interesting things. Scott thanks so much. Any final thoughts?
ST: If anybody’s interested in seeing what’s going on in Fairfield, go to fairfieldgogreen.com. You can see the educational initiatives that are happening, the code work that we’re doing, all of that. And there are links to resources, really fantastic resources on their website. So if you have any questions feel free to reach out to me through that website too.
JM: Alright, thank you so much for once again joining us for another installment here of the Dream Green Series, Stuart Tanner and James Moore traveling all over the state. Next week, just want to remind you we’ll be featuring the methane digester at Amana Colonies. You don’t want to miss that show. Also, we’ll be speaking with Rich Pirog who has been an amazing advocate for food, food policy, twenty years at the Leopold Center, recently going to Michigan State University. We’ll hear all about that and more next week right here on the Dream Green Series.
Voiceover: Produced by Stuart Tanner and James Moore at solar-powered KRUU 100.1 FM, Fairfield, Iowa, online at kruufm.com. This series is funded in part by a grant from the Iowa Office of Energy Independence, and nearly seventy individuals, companies and organizations. For a list of sponsors, visit our website at greeniowa.org. Archives available for download under creative commons license. Music from Zila.