Tuesday, September 26, 2006

On Day Six We Travled from Oakland to Oakland

The Nebraska Renewable Energy Association cares how that state produces renewable energy. They want it done locally and owned locally. Deb Ward, the organization’s director pulled together a number of local people who are either working to train local students on renewable energy or produce it themselves. One local farmer actually brought a trailer-mounted crusher/extruder that could produce oil from soybeans or sunflowers. The oil is then used to produce bio-diesel in a farm scale bio-diesel machine made by Flying F Bio-fuels near Iowa City. That machine coupled with his India-produced crusher/extruder would be all a farmer would need to make his own fuel. Jason Barelman, Director of Career Services at nearby Wayne State University described a new internship program for students designed to train the experts who will populate the local renewable industry and offset the brain drain from the communities in the part of Nebraska.

Oakland, Nebraska is on the eastern side of the state, close to the Missouri River. Oakland, Iowa is just 100 miles south and east of the other Oakland. Our visit there was put together by Shirley Fredriksen, the coordinator of Golden Hills Resource Conservation and Development (RC&D). RC&Ds are not-for-profit organizations dedicated to using local resources to expand economic development in a sustainable way. The board is local and each coordinator is an employee of the USDA Natural Resources Conservation Service. Aside from the coordinator’s salary and a bit more, like any other non profit, Golden Hills survives on grants and can go as far as the board allows.

The Golden Hills board got “way out of their comfort zone” to agree to build a green building as their headquarters in Oakland. The 3,600 square foot structure uses about $200 of energy per month. The cost of the building was about $350,000 making the cost per square foot similar to conventional buildings that would require much more energy. When we did Tom Cook’s seminar from the building, Duane McFadden, a Cass County Supervisor and RC&D board member described the energy efficient building design to the students listening back in Iowa City. Other energy experts also spoke to the class. Ed Woolsey, a renewable energy consultant who has been on every Green Bike Tour back to 1999, talked about working in the state legislature to pass laws that encourage locally owned renewable energy systems. Senator Hubert Houser who works closely with Golden Hills is one of the recognized leaders in the legislature on renewable energy. He spoke about the challenges of overcoming partisanship to get legislation passed. Renewable energy is an issue that can easily cross party lines. Senator Houser, a Republican, has worked closely with Democratic Senator Joe Bolkcom, a veteran Green Biker who was with us on the opening day ride this year.

Shirley Fredriksen described the many programs at Golden Hills RC&D and David Osterberg showed the PowerPoint slide show that Tom Cook had pulled together from the previous days of the tour. This was the second time Tom’s seminar was produced remotely with Elluminate Live software during a green bike tour. The previous time we had been a coffee house in Storm Lake in 2004. In both cases students heard from the state’s experts on renewable energy development.

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The Green Bike Tour is sponsored by The University of Iowa's Center for Global and Regional Environmental Research, The Iowa Policy Project, and The Fred & Charlotte Hubbell Foundation, and Kelly Webworks.