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Featured Article filed under Energy, Energy Self-Reliant States | Written by Karlee Weinmann | No Comments | Updated on Feb 3, 2017

Thanks to Co-op, Small Iowa Town Goes Big On Solar

The content that follows was originally published on the Institute for Local Self-Reliance website at https://ilsr.org/thanks-to-co-op-small-iowa-town-goes-big-on-solar/

It’s hard to imagine a place more bucolic than the rural farming communities clustered around Kalona, Iowa — the kind of place that for generations has embodied conservative, blue-collar values woven throughout rural America.

Nestled in the gently rolling hills of southeastern Iowa, it’s at first difficult to tell what sets Kalona apart from countless similar places on the Midwestern landscape. Small towns like these form the backbone of a region whose economy depends on a rich farming tradition, even well into the 21st century.

But Kalona’s charm doesn’t obscure the innovation that makes it a national leader in clean power generation. In this small community, where many Amish and Mennonite families shun electricity and cars, solar power has proliferated. In fact, the Kalona area is a surprising national leader in solar power generation.

Sparking Solar

The local solar movement traces back to Farmers Electric Cooperative, the utility serving 605 households and businesses in Kalona and its surrounding villages. Per capita, Farmers Electric generates 3,719 watts of solar power per subscriber — 76 percent more than the next utility! The utility, owned by its customers, offers a window into how community-minded thinking can shape sensible energy policy and reinvent the local economy.

Eight years after Farmers Electric launched a fierce campaign to integrate renewables into its energy mix, it’s obvious that solar has caught on. Skeptics were slow to opt in to clean power in the beginning. But now, in Kalona, solar power is the norm. They line the roofs of farmhouses and other local businesses, and ground-mounted arrays power other agribusiness operations.

What started with a single pilot array at a local high school has grown into a robust distributed generation network including farmers, homeowners and business owners cashing in on clean energy. Even as customers save money, more of their energy dollars stay within the community, boosting the local economy.

Farmers Electric remains an outlier in promoting solar so aggressively, but its approach provides a blueprint for other power providers.

“Solar is like the electric car. I think people see it as the future, basically, in technology,” said Warren McKenna, who heads up Farmers Electric and spearheaded its solar plan. “If you make it easy, I think they’re going to grab a hold of it. It’s been very, very popular with our customers.”

There is no single path to unlocking the economic and community benefits seeded by solar, captured widely in Farmers Electric’s territory. Still, the unexpected success in bringing widespread solar generation to a tiny farming community about 30 miles south of Iowa City offers a pivotal lesson: it all comes down to the money.

The Pitch

Farmers Electric harnessed the power of the dollar to gets its solar campaign off the ground, and keep it going. In order for the program to succeed, McKenna knew early on that it had to provide a financial boost to co-op members — the environmental benefits, he says, were an unspoken cherry on top. Continue reading

Featured Article filed under Energy, Energy Self-Reliant States | Written by John Farrell | No Comments | Updated on Jan 17, 2017

Solar: Choice, Competition, and Clean Air

The content that follows was originally published on the Institute for Local Self-Reliance website at https://ilsr.org/choice-competition-and-clean-air/

It’s simple to promote solar power as a money saver and clean alternative to fossil fuel generation. But it sells solar short to focus only on savings, when it also gives Americans the freedom to generate their own energy and to challenge the economic and political power of big corporations. Individual Freedom If individuals want… Continue reading

Featured Article filed under Energy, Energy Self-Reliant States | Written by Karlee Weinmann | No Comments | Updated on Nov 9, 2016

As Trump Heads to White House, Lack of Actual Policy Threatens U.S. Energy Future

The content that follows was originally published on the Institute for Local Self-Reliance website at https://ilsr.org/trump-white-house-energy-questions/

The U.S. energy economy faces unprecedented pressure to integrate clean and renewable fuel sources like wind and solar, but after a distracting 2016 presidential campaign sidelined energy policy, troubling and untenable gaps in the president-elect’s strategy remain unchecked. In the run-up to Tuesday’s election, the lone flicker of interest in clean energy was promptly extinguished… Continue reading

Featured Article filed under Energy, Energy Self-Reliant States | Written by Karlee Weinmann | No Comments | Updated on Dec 26, 2016

New Year’s Resolutions for Electric Utilities, Happy 2017!

The content that follows was originally published on the Institute for Local Self-Reliance website at https://ilsr.org/2017-electric-utility-resolutions/

The turn of the year is a perfect time for monopoly electric utilities nationwide to reflect on their substandard policies and embrace changes that will bring cleaner, more affordable energy to their customers. By finally committing to truly support distributed generation and renewables, these utilities can ensure their customers will have the choice and freedom… Continue reading

Featured Article, Resource filed under Energy, Energy Self-Reliant States, Independent Business, The Public Good, Waste to Wealth | Written by Nick Stumo-Langer | No Comments | Updated on Dec 29, 2016

The Year in Building Local Power – Episode 8 of the Building Local Power Podcast

The content that follows was originally published on the Institute for Local Self-Reliance website at https://ilsr.org/the-year-in-building-local-power-episode-8-of-the-building-local-power-podcast/

In this episode, Chris Mitchell, the director of our Community Broadband Networks initiative, interviews a roundtable of ILSR staff members. Participants are: Olivia LaVecchia of the Community-Scaled Economies initiative, Karlee Weinmann of the Energy Democracy initiative, and Nick Stumo-Langer, ILSR’s Communication Manager. Continue reading