Iowa City to provide grants to help businesses boost energy efficiency

New energy efficiency initiative grant aims to help Iowa City businesses upgrade their appliances and reduce the city’s emissions.


Daniel McGregor-Huyer

The Iowa City Marketplace is one of the areas that is a target for the energy efficiency grant. The Iowa City Marketplace is seen in Iowa City on March 2 2021.

Brady Osborne, News Reporter

Iowa City is beginning a new program that would help businesses around Sycamore and First Avenue, Heinz road, and Scott 6 transition to using clean energy in order to reach the city’s emission reductions goals. The city will be matching grants up to $250,000 for these three areas.

The Iowa City City Council hopes to reduce emissions by 45 percent by 2030 and achieve net-zero emissions by 2050.

This program will help businesses install more energy efficient appliances that will reduce emissions to reach the city’s goals and save the businesses money in the long run.

Iowa City Economic Development Coordinator Wendy Ford said the city has had programs like this in place for years, but they have time limits for when they can be used.

“You’re only able to create incentives in these areas for a limited amount of time, and we’re coming up on the limits of those times now,” Ford said.

Ford said these programs are funded by a process known as tax increment financing, which is when a taxable area pays property taxes, and over time, the difference between the taxable value and the appreciated value creates additional funds that go to the city.

The city can take this additional value and put it to use by creating incentive programs like this one.

Ford said that these programs are mutually beneficial, with both the city and the businesses benefitting in different ways from the updated, more efficient energy appliances.

Sarah Gardner, a climate action engagement specialist with the city, said the city benefits from these programs because one of Iowa City’s biggest contributors to emissions are factories. By helping these businesses get more efficient energy sources, the city is in turn helping itself reach its climate goals.

“One of the things we know from our greenhouse gas inventories, for the City of Iowa City, is that the largest contributor to emissions in the city comes from electricity use powering our buildings,” Gardner said. “In order to bring emissions down, we need to use less energy, and then the energy we do use needs to be cleaner.”

Gardner said that one of Iowa City’s climate goals is to achieve net-zero emissions by 2050, but there is still work to be done to reach that benchmark.

“We know that in order to achieve a net-zero emissions by 2050, it’s not enough to just have clean power, although that of course is a big piece of the puzzle. But we also need to be reducing the amount of energy we use overall,” Gardner said.

Ford said the city is hoping to have these programs for different areas of the city as well, but the industrial area along Highway 6 was the most pressing as the money had to be used soon.

“The money comes to the city regardless, the city either uses it or doesn’t and we were at the point of almost not being able to use it for anything anymore. So, we decided to give these companies an incentive to be more energy efficient,” Ford said.

While his company is not eligible to receive the grant, Jeff Carey, the marketing and business development manager at Sitler’s LED Supplies, says that he is hopeful that the companies who receive the grant will work with Sitler’s, as they would also stand to benefit from the program.

“We look for these types of projects because they are a win win,” Carey said. “They are wins for the community, wins for us, and wins for the customer.”

Carey said that while Sitler’s cannot apply for the grant because they are outside of the designated area, they can provide companies with lighting system upgrades, solar power upgrades, and building automation controls.

Businesses can apply on the Iowa City governments website. The application is open now, and any business in the area designated on the informational page of the grant is able to apply.

Editor’s Note: this article has been updated with Iowa City’s revised emissions goals. The city hopes to cut carbon emissions by 45 percent by 2030, revised from an initial 25 percent by 2025, and achieve net-zero by 2050, revised from a goal to reduce 80 percent of emissions by the year 2050.