Evansville has long been ahead of the green trend

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Saturday, February 23, 2008
— When looking for ways to “be green,” look no farther than Evansville.

While 2007 is seen as a year our country became more environmentally conscious, officials say Evansville reached that point long ago.

“This a community that really understands it,” said Jeff Pieterick, vice president of North Prairie Productions. “The whole nation is finally coming around to that. Evansville has been already there.”

But the city isn’t slowing down.

In December, the city council approved a resolution to start a community-wide energy conservation program with a goal of reducing energy consumption by 10 percent, Mayor Sandy Decker said. While no time limit was set for that goal, the city would lead by example, she said.

The city then bought a neighborhood electric vehicle to use for errands such as meter reading. Buying another vehicle is planned for later this year. Also on the way could be three wind turbines proposed for Union Township that would provide electricity for about 18 percent of the city’s water and light customers. Plans are in the works to create a school forest as well.

But several green projects have been in place for years, including solar panels on the city’s swimming pool and a geothermal system in the high school that opened in 2002.

A number of factors went into site selection for North Prairie’s biodiesel plant, which is on hold on the city’s east side. But once company officials started investigating Evansville, they found a city that already had its head in renewable energy, Pieterick said.

The city’s approach is comprehensive, he said, because residents and officials know it’s not just global climate change, energy independence or the opportunity for economic development. It’s the whole package, he said.

“They’re way ahead of the game,” he said. “They’ve got a real keen understanding of just what impact they can have as a community.”

During the biodiesel plant’s groundbreaking ceremony, Gov. Jim Doyle called Evansville one of the state’s great “green” cities and commended the city on its foresight to invest in renewable energy.

So why the momentum to “be green” in Evansville?

“It just seems to keep spiraling, and people are becoming more aware one step at a time,” middle school teacher Butch Beedle said. “People are looking for the right thing to do—simple things, things that don’t (require) huge lifestyle changes, but changes that are common sense.”

Much of the interest and energy has sparked from the community’s Energy Fair, held the last five years around Arbor Day at the school field house. Decker said she was amazed at how big and involved the fair was when she attended for the first time in 2006.

An estimated 2,000 people attended last year’s Energy Fair, and organizers are looking for ways to make the April 25 event even better, said Beedle, the fair’s spokesman. Last year, the event featured nearly 60 exhibitors, hundreds of student projects, distribution of free energy conservation items, demonstrations and other educational opportunities.

In some cases, it’s kids informing their parents, Beedle said.

Kendall Wethal started delving into the possibilities of solar energy three years ago after he helped his daughter Kate with her fifth-grade solar project. After seeing what they could do on a small scale by creating a mini hot water solar panel collector, Wethal looked into commercial suppliers and rolled up his sleeves.

Now his business, Pleasant Prairie Greenhouse, features a five-panel system to heat water that runs through pipes in the cement floor to warm the structure. He estimates the system saves him at least one filling of his propane tank each winter.

Another 12 solar panel system produces enough electricity for the greenhouse to zero out the building’s energy use annually. People attending last year’s Energy Fair had the opportunity to take a bus tour to see how the systems work at the business just west of Evansville.

“Ten years from now, what’s electricity going to be at?” Wethal said. “I’m not going to have to worry about it. It’s just going to make my business that much stronger down the road.”

He also installed a smaller system on his home.

Another family who learned about geothermal systems at the Energy Fair ended up installing such a system when they built a new home, Beedle said.

“Those kinds of things you say ‘Oh my goodness, we can’t stop now, people are actually listening,’” Beedle said. “If I heard two stories like that, how many have I not heard?”

Beedle also takes a group of students on an environmental education trip to Panama each summer.

In 2001, a group of community, city and school officials started the Evansville Initiative to investigate and promote alternative energy in and around the city.

“I think we were just a couple steps ahead,” Beedle said.

You’re seeing the same thing around the nation now, he said.

The city also joined the member-owned Wisconsin Public Power in April 2007. It has more than 100 water and light customers buying blocks of green energy, ranking Evansville eighth among WPPI’s 41 communities in terms of percentage of customer participation.

With the city, schools, businesses and residents working together, officials hope to meet the city’s energy-reduction goal.

“I think it’s just kind of building on itself,” Beedle said.


-- Sixth annual energy fair to be held on Arbor Day

-- Classroom energy/conservation projects

-- Planning for Grove Community Forest Trail

-- Soybean Festival

-- Community and city support for biodiesel and soybean crushing plants

-- Students building energy efficient house

-- Tree City designation for six years

-- Energy Initiative group dedicated to alternative energy education

-- Windmill at the high school

-- Solar panels help heat the community swimming pool

-- Geothermal heating/cooling system at the high school

-- Recent renovation of city hall included increased energy efficiency

-- Neighborhood electric vehicle bought for city use

-- More than 100 utility customer buying green energy

-- Biodiesel fuels schools buses

-- Reusing old brick pavers and streetlights on Main Street

-- Increased use of compact fluorescent bulbs in city buildings

-- City council resolution of reducing community energy usage by 10 percent

-- LED lights used for city hall AWARE Love Lights Tree

-- School district using local produce

-- Water and Light department buying a soy oil-filled transformer

Last updated: 3:55 pm Thursday, December 13, 2012

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