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Follow farmers’ lead

Iowa farmers are leading the way by producing renewable electricity, keeping dollars here at home, growing Iowa’s economy and helping provide clean air for future generations.

The large wind farms we see from the highway are just part of the story. Smaller-scale, on-farm generation of electricity from wind, solar, biomass and biogas are also spreading across the state.

I met some farmers and the businesses working with them at a meeting in Kalona on Aug. 14. The meeting was sponsored by the Farm Energy Working Group, a partnership between farmers and our universities, including the Leopold Center for Sustainable Agriculture, Iowa State University Extension, and the Center for Energy and Environmental Education at the University of Northern Iowa.

The Farm Energy Working Group provides webinars and other educational opportunities to encourage farm-generated renewable electricity, something that will reduce our dependence on out-of-state fossil fuels and keep dollars right here in the Iowa economy.

Farmers Electric Cooperative in Kalona reported that six of their customers already generate electricity through solar and wind. Statewide, more than 200 customers have interconnection agreements with rural electric cooperatives to generate electricity from renewable energy sources.

Farmers Electric also invites its customers to buy part of a “solar garden” located at its main office building. Participants invest $375 to purchase a solar module in the “garden.” Their return is savings of up to $4.68 on their monthly utility bills — a payback of 7-10 years for helping produce clean, homegrown electricity. More than 10 percent of Farmers Electric’s customers have made the investment, and more are on the waiting list.

At Kalona, I also talked with representatives from three Iowa companies — Geode Energy in Danville, Blake Electric in Waukon, and RJ Construction in Marion — that install solar systems. You can find other businesses doing similar work through the Iowa Solar and Small Wind Trade Association at

Are you wondering if your farm or business could profit by generating electricity from renewable energy? The Iowa Energy Center has a solar and wind calculator at its website to help landowners assess their property’s potential. Additional information is available from the Iowa Renewable Energy Association at

In Kalona, we also heard from The Energy Group of Des Moines, which works with farmers on energy efficiency improvements for grain dryers, lighting, heating and other systems with the help of the USDA Rural Energy for America Program. Kate Sand with the USDA Rural Development office in Indianola, (515) 961-5365, can help you find out how to save energy and increase profits.

This spring, the Iowa Legislature created a new state solar energy tax credit to match the existing federal tax credit for newly installed solar energy systems. These state credits are worth up to $3,000 for homeowners and up to $15,000 for businesses. It’s a good time to invest in solar.

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posted in: EmployerNews, Iowa, News

Green coalition unveils statewide renewable energy plan

When UI senior engineering student Zach Carter graduates in May 2013, he won’t look for white-collar comfort. He wants a green-collar job.

Carter, an organizer for the Sierra Student Coalition, spoke at the first conference held by the new coalition Iowa Renewable Energy Jobs 2020 about his hopes not only for his future but the entire state’s.

“Renewable energy delivers to Iowa nothing but great opportunities — including advanced training in our schools, green-collar jobs, energy independence, and even the awesome potential for Iowans to sell electricity back to the grid,” he said. “I want these opportunities to last and to expand. As I approach graduation, I look forward to a renewable-energy job — a green-collar career, and I shouldn’t have to follow it out of state. I joined this [coalition] because I am afraid of being a direct victim of Iowa brain drain.”

The Iowa Renewable Energy Jobs 2020 unveiled a new plan Tuesday to fight just that — pushing to create 20,000 jobs and save consumers $1 billion statewide each year in energy costs by the year 2020 through development of renewable energy in Iowa. The initiative also calls for 40 percent of Iowa’s energy to come from renewable sources, no ratepayer financing for nuclear energy, and more fuel-efficient vehicles.

The coalition unites more than 30 renewable-energy and sustainability-advocacy organizations ,including the Sierra Club, Iowa Physicians for Social Responsibility, and Iowa Interfaith Power and Light.

Steve Fugate, a local renewable energy installer who spoke at the conference, said the initiative is a way to channel the energy of citizens who are concerned about impending climate crises.

“Once you’re out of water, it’s a little late to start conserving,” he said. “We’re trying to get ahead of the curve a little and to create a coalition that can funnel the energy of people who feel anxiety about what’s to come.”

Throughout the day, the coalition highlighted the many ways renewable energy benefits Iowa — not just the environment.

Fugate stressed the potential for creating jobs through the green economy. He said installing alternative energy isn’t minimum-wage labor but can pay $20 to $30 per hour.

He said despite what he considers a lack of governmental leadership in providing incentives and loosened regulations, the movement represents a grass-roots effort to start to build the local economy into a strong and sustainable one.

Maureen McCue, the coordinator for Iowa Physicians for Social Responsibility, said improving sustainable infrastructure not only makes for a healthier economy, it betters the well-being of Iowans themselves.

“We tend to forget, but we are interdependent,” she said. “Both our personal and environmental health are at risk.”

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posted in: EmployerNews, Iowa, National, News

GREEN JOBS: New facility opens to train people for the growing field of renewable energy jobs

A new facility opens its doors in central Iowa next week, and the goal is to train people for the growing field of green jobs.

The unemployed or people looking for a career change have the option of going back to class next week for free. The I-GREEN Learning Center in Newton opens Monday for the first class.

Student Jack McCuen is turning the page on a new career. He says, “I know how good the money is in this trade, so when this opportunity came by, there was no way I could pass it up.”

McCuen will learn to be a lineman. He says the trade is in demand, and at $30 to $40 an hour, he’ll make more than he did at his previous job. He says, “My dad’s been a lineman my entire life, but I’ve never tried it and don’t know much about it, so I’m coming to learn.”

He signed up for the first class at the I-GREEN Learning Center. It’s a ten week course that teaches the trade of putting up power poles. The first class is free thanks to a government grant and discounts through the training center. Director Phillip Stender says, “We’re going to teach them how to climb poles and the materials that electrical linemen work with.”

Stender says the class is just the beginning. He says they plan to offer more in the future, focusing on different types of renewable energy. Stender says,“Any big renewable project that happens that generates electricity or power will be distributed by electrical lineman and we felt this was the first good place to start.”

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posted in: EmployerNews, Iowa, National, News

Green Energy Becomes Nightmare for Iowa Man

When Ron Pike stumbled onto wind power at a trade show last spring, he liked what he saw.

When Ron Pike stumbled onto wind power at a trade show last spring, he liked what he saw.

The 68–year–old lives on a plot of acreage perched high on a Missouri Valley hill.

Utilizing the daily breeze to help generate power seemed like a logical, cost–effective way to stimulate clean energy.Read Full Article

posted in: Iowa, News

Green Jobs Aren’t a Unique Category

So-called “green jobs” shouldn’t be viewed as a category of specialized employment in the debate over a federal climate change bill, an energy policy expert said during a weekend visit here.

So-called “green jobs” shouldn’t be viewed as a category of specialized employment in the debate over a federal climate change bill, an energy policy expert said during a weekend visit here.

“What we’re hearing from our legislators is, they don’t know what ‘green jobs’ mean,” said Kate Gordon, vice president for energy policy for the Center for American Progress, during a weekend visit to I-Renew Expo in Norway.

Gordon said legislators don’t know what green jobs mean because, in many cases, they’re the same as traditional jobs. In fact, Gordon said, it’s harmful to talk about green jobs as a separate category of jobs.Read Full Article

posted in: Iowa, News

Governor Culver Takes Steps to Create New Green-Collar Jobs in Iowa

Governor Chet Culver has signed Executive Order 16, which creates the Iowa Green Jobs Task Force.

Governor Chet Culver has signed Executive Order 16, which creates the Iowa Green Jobs Task Force.

“In recent years, thanks to our efforts in biofuels and wind energy, we have created thousands of green-collar jobs for Iowans,” said Governor Culver.  “However, if we are to expand these industries, we must also have the workforce necessary to fill those positions.  That is why I am creating the Green Jobs Task Force, which will help coordinate our state’s efforts in creating and filling the green-collar jobs of the future.”

The fifteen member task force is to help focus state government’s efforts in creating high-paying, green-collar jobs, as well as coordinate the state’s efforts to secure federal green initiative grants through the American Recovery and Reinvestment Act.  Roya Stanley, Executive Director of the Iowa Office of Energy Independence, will serve as chair,  and Lis Buck, Director of Iowa Workforce Development, will serve as Vice Chair.  Executive Order 16 charges the task force with creating jobs and training workers in the renewable energy industry.  They are to prepare a report and present it to the Governor by October 1st on their activities, and provide recommendations on ways we can expand the number of green-collar jobs in Iowa.Read Full Article

posted in: Iowa, News

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