Building Efficiency, Eliminating Waste

September 9, 2016 | Building Efficiency, Eliminating Waste Iowa Association of Business and Industry,

Fred Buie, President, Keystone Electrical Manufacturing

Iowa energy companies are at the forefront of doing their part to reduce their carbon footprint, and to protect the environment and preserve natural resources with the production of renewable sources of energy and the creation of more trails and other green spaces.

ITC Midwest has a holistic approach when it comes to sustainability efforts. It starts in the office but is most visible with natural greenways, restored prairielands, sowing milkweed to rebuild the monarch butterfly population, and planting trees to provide vegetation management.

“I think where you really see it manifest itself is how we operate and maintain our transmission lines,” said Krista Tanner, president of ITC Midwest. “I think that’s where you’ll see the largest impact.”

The independent electricity transmission company operates more than 6,600 miles of transmission lines in Iowa, Minnesota, Illinois and Missouri that deliver energy to Alliant Energy, municipal utility companies, as well as some of MidAmerican Energy Co.’s wind farms. Tanner said wind energy is 41 percent of the capacity connected to company’s system.

“Our customers might not see the work we do in our facilities, but they see the work we do in connecting with wind and these native prairie areas,” she said.

Vegetation management is a huge component of maintaining high-voltage power lines and transmission corridors. ITC has selectively removed trees and other greenery that is too large to be located within the corridors—it could cause a widespread power outage—and replaced it with grasses, wildflowers and low-grow- ing shrubs.

The company also educates the public and property owners through its “Right Tree, Right Place” program, which explains the plants that can be safely planted near transmission lines. In some areas, ITC has been able to create greenway trails for pedestrian and bicycle traffic.

Day-to-day, employees use and purchase environmentally friendly materials and eliminate waste within all of ITC’s facilities through recycling and responsible usage of materials. The company has a green team and conducts waste audits to identify items for reuse and recycling. About 49 percent of the waste generated at their Michigan headquarters is recycled. The company’s four ware- houses are working toward a zero landfill waste goal. In the past few years, the amount of warehouse waste that has gone to the landfill has decreased by 50 percent. The Iowa City warehouse has a rain garden to reduce stormwater runoff from the site. The Cedar Rapids facility is located downtown to help reduce urban sprawl.

“We are excited and proud of our sustainability efforts,” Tanner said.

Other Iowa companies have worked to find alternative renewable sources of energy.

Troy and Amy Van Beek created one of the first solar energy companies in Iowa when they founded Ideal Energy Solar in 2009. The company was created out of necessity when the two discovered a lack of the types of tech- nology and energy needed to expand the Abundance Ecovillage in Fairfield and later to implement a sustainability plan Troy helped create for the city, said Amy Van Beek, who is the company’s creative marketing director.

“We realized these technologies were going to be growing in the state, and we wanted to be able to help implement them,” she said.

It took a few years to get people on board with the idea of solar energy. “There was a lot of ‘I didn’t think solar worked here because we have winter,’” Amy Van Beek said. “There were all kinds of misconceptions about the technology at the time.”

By 2011, solar energy became a more viable option with tax incentives and energy rebates, which allowed most businesses to receive a payback within six to 10 years. Ideal Energy installed most of their initial projects in Fairfield. Since then, the company has grown exponentially every year and now employs 30 people. Its customer base has expanded to surrounding states including Missouri, Minnesota and Illinois.

Solar energy has proven to be a huge payback for companies – the way solar is installed is that any excess power that is produced but not consumed is being pushed back onto the power grid. The owner’s meter runs backward, thus giving them a credit from the utility company.

Amy Van Beek said solar power has helped Steffensmeier Welding & Manufacturing in Pilot Grove, Iowa, save $92,000 a year in electrical costs. The company received its return on its investment within four to six years of installing solar power.

Ideal Energy also has worked to increase sustainability within the company, Amy Van Beek said. Two years ago, the Van Beeks purchased a 30,000-square-foot building in Fairfield to convert into its headquarters. They had an efficiency audit conducted, and as a result, converted lighting to high efficiency, added insulation and installed a high efficiency furnace. Solar panels will be installed by the end of the year.

On a daily basis, Ideal Energy employees recycle scrap metal, card- board and other leftover materials. The company switched to only using panels and parts produced in the United States. Employees are encouraged to buy local and ride their bicycles to work.

Ideal Energy dabbled in wind energy when the company was first founded but has turned its attention solely to solar and energy storage solutions.

Meanwhile, MidAmerican Energy is preparing to embark upon a large wind project where 1,000 turbines located in six or seven locations throughout the state will provide energy to power the equivalent of 800,000 Iowa households.

Earlier this year, MidAmerican officials announced their 100 percent renewable vision with part of that being Wind IX. The project is up for approval before the Iowa Utilities Board in late September.

The Wind IX project is a $3.6 billion project that will add 2,000 megawatts of wind power. By the end of this year, MidAmerican’s wind projects will produce 4,000 megawatts. Currently, 57 percent of MidAmerican’s pow- er comes from wind energy. This next phase will boost it to 85 percent.

“We’re able to add this at no net cost to customer partially because of the production tax credit,” said Michael Fehr, vice president of resource development for MidAmerican. “This is a very big project, a $3.6 billion project, which is a very large development project for the state of Iowa. Not just a wind project, but any kind of project.”

He said the company has no target date for its 100 percent renewable vision but wants to continue to produce as much renewable energy each year as its customers can use. Some energy will still come from coal, but it will become less of a source of energy in the state. In 2004, 70 percent of MidAmerican’s capacity came from coal and nothing from wind.

“Having balance in our generation mix is important to provide afford- able and reliable service for our customers,” said Debora Blume, director of communications for MidAmerican Energy. “We will not be doing away with our coal generation, but we won’t be building any more fossil-fuel generation. Renewable energy is our future.”

MidAmerican’s Wind IX project will help Iowa surpass more than 40 percent of its energy being produced by wind, company officials said. Currently, according to the Iowa Wind Energy Association, Iowa ranks No. 1 with 31.3 percent of its total state energy generation being produced by wind.

Fehr said solar energy would be part of the company’s work to reach its 100 percent renewable energy goal but that it won’t play as big of a role as wind energy. The company submitted a pilot solar power project to the Iowa Utilities Board earlier this year, but MidAmerican officials didn’t think the board would take up the proposal.

“It’s hard for anything to compete economically with wind,” Fehr said. “We’re constantly trying to find ways to install economical solar.”

MidAmerican Energy offers energy audits to customers where they can have their business examined to find ways to operate more efficiently and use less energy.

Keystone Electrical Manufacturing Co. in Des Moines has taken ad- vantage of MidAmerican’s energy audit program to reduce the company’s greenhouse emissions and carbon footprint by 50 percent since 2010. The company replaced inefficient lighting and fixtures, and cut heating and cooling losses through various methods. MidAmerican gave Keystone a rebate for the lighting work, and the company received a tax credit, which helped them quickly pay back the cost of the project.

“The program MidAmerican offers is an incredible resource,” said Fred Buie, chief executive officer of Keystone. “It doesn’t cost you anything to do it, and they have rebates that come directly from MidAmerican, plus you get the tax credits.”

Company officials have conducted an emissions inventory through the Iowa Department of Natural Resources to uncover all sources of emissions and the chemicals Keystone uses.

Buie said the company discovered its highest sources of emissions were through painting and welding. As a result, it switched to low VOC (volatile organic compound) paints and more green cleaning solvents. They’ve also re-examined their welding practices and have sought more environmentally friendly welding supplies.

Buie was part of a group that met with President Barack Obama last year to discuss ways his company has reduced its energy consumption. Keystone provides substation controls and electric control relay panels to energy companies to monitor the flow of the energy in and out of the power grid.

“The intent of the meeting was to talk about global warming, the whole environmental issue and what are some of the things we as a company are doing to reduce our carbon footprint,” Buie said.