County approves green fund

BY KRISTEN BARON | JULY 07, 2014 5:00 AM

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The Johnson County Board of Supervisors last week unanimously agreed to establish a sustainability and energy reinvestment fund in order to reduce energy use.

Sustainability covers a wide range of issues, but Johnson County’s main focus is energy use, which officials expect to drop 2 percent in the county in the next five years with the establishment of the fund.

“We’re using the word sustainability, but we’re being sustainable energy-wise,” said county Supervisor John Etheredge. “It’s more a fund to have money for energy-reducing projects.”

The initial fund will start at $50,000, and $25,000 will be allocated to the fund annually through fiscal 2019. The fund will not exceed $250,000.

After the United States elected to sign the Kyoto Protocol in 1997 but not ratify it, it has been up to local governments to regulate energy use and sustainability, said Iowa City sustainability coordinator Brenda Nations.

County Supervisor Janelle Rettig said the money for the sustainability fund will be taken out of the capital expenditure fund, and any refunds or incentives received from these projects will go back into the fund.

“It’s really visionary for Johnson County,” she said. “We have our eyes on several solar projects and a few wind projects as well.”

Prior to the creation of the fund, Johnson County has installed LED lights and upgraded to more energy-efficient equipment in certain buildings in order to reduce energy.

Efforts to improve sustainability have been prominent in Iowa City as well.

The city received a federal grant of approximately $692,000, which was given to the 10 most populated cities in Iowa. This grant has since been used to install energy-efficient lighting, upgrade buildings, and create energy-efficient fire stations, Nations said.

Iowa City has an average energy output for an American city, but the United States produces around 10 times more in greenhouse gases over what is considered sustainable, Nations said. With the fund, there may be more opportunities to reduce energy use.

“We’re one of three cities to get accepted to the Iowa Initiative for Sustainable Communities,” Nations said.

The initiative, which was created in 2009, is focused on making Iowa cities more sustainable, and it works closely with the University of Iowa to accomplish that goal.

The sustainability and energy reinvestment fund will make it easier for the county to accept grants for projects as well as provide the additional funds needed for projects.

Etheredge said a major fund was established was so the county would not have to turn down offers to become more sustainable because of a lack of funding.

Earlier this year, the supervisors approved an energy-saving project, a solar farm. The farm will help provide power to Farmers Electric Co-op’s Farmers Henhouse site, as well as to several other buildings nearby.

“A lot of cities have made the commitment to [reduce energy],” Nations said. “And with this fund, Johnson County will find itself getting greener with every project.”

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