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Local government bodies should incentivize green businesses

BY DI EDITORIAL BOARD | OCTOBER 13, 2009 7:20 AM

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As the trend toward promoting environmentally friendly communities spreads, entities in the Johnson Country area have been working to do their part as well.

The Johnson County Council of Governments has developed a community climate task force to assist its entities — surrounding municipalities and the UI — in reducing emissions. The group, which originally got the idea from the Sierra Club’s Cool Cities Task Force, provides such members as Coralville, Iowa City, and North Liberty with software to calculate their energy use in hopes they will be able to identify ways to decrease demand for electricity and promote efficiency in government, commercial, and possibly residential buildings.

Iowa City officials have also been working on totaling the city’s emissions. Next, they will develop goals and timetables for reduction.

Those officials shouldn’t stop there, however. The city should offer compelling incentives to local businesses to catalyze its pro-environment efforts. This could spark long-term emission cuts and may even change the city’s antibusiness reputation.

Such a move wouldn’t be unprecedented.

The Ames City Council offers a rebate program, essentially sending a check to businesses that use alternative energy sources, according to the Iowa State Daily. While most rebate checks are around $2,500, one company received $49,000 for installing a high-efficiency geothermal heating and cooling system. The program was designed to decease the demand electricity, thereby lowering emissions and saving money.

While Mark Nolte, the business-development director for the Iowa City Area Development Group, said he is not aware of any such rebates at the city level, he noted utility companies such as MidAmerican Energy offer similar incentives for businesses looking to go green. Ames’ plan has a similar structure to the one offered by utility companies. New initiatives in other governmental bodies may help accomplish a similar goal, he said.

We agree.

Kent Ralston, the Council of Governments’ assistant transportation planner, said the task force focuses on reducing emissions from governmental buildings and vehicles. By expanding the scope to the city’s private sector, as Iowa City officials have started to do, the group could promote sustainability to the community as a whole.

Wendy Ford, Iowa City’s economic-development coordinator, said a $700,000 grant from the U.S. Department of Energy in May sparked an idea for a program that involves a “revolving loan program,” which amounts to a constant motion of loans and repayments. Officials would loan money to a business owner to purchase energy-efficient equipment, the owner would pay the loan back with a “reasonable” interest rate, and officials would continue the lending cycle.

Business owners should show their support for such a proposition and stay involved in discussion given the idea is still young. They should also demonstrate a willingness to participate in the loan program and pay the loans back on time. While making a decision to rework the power source of one’s business may be difficult and strenuous in the short-term, the long-term benefits greatly outweigh the struggle.

But officials should go further. Granted, budget restraints resulting from the recession have governmental bodies — and bodies everywhere for that matter — holding on to every penny. But offering rebates and incentives at a relatively low cost, when looked at in the grand scheme, could be beneficial. Besides reducing emissions over time, providing such opportunities to businesses would give prospective business owners more reason to set up shop in Iowa City.


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