Ames emphasizes sustainability

Elisse Lorenc

Ames is working to ensure the community is functioning with sustainability in mind. 

In 2007, the city created a Cool Cities Committee to organize reducing Ames’ municipal carbon footprint by 15 percent by 2014.

The Ames City Council discussed Ames’ progress toward sustainability at its meeting Sept. 28.

Paul Hinderaker, Ames’ director of fleet and facilities, and Brian Phillips, city manager intern, presented the council with progress in the city’s building, fleet and streetlight sectors.

The report showed electrical consumption increased between the years 2007 and 2009.

Hinderaker speculated major contributors to be the CyRide building, which has tripled in size over the past nine years, City Hall, which is almost exclusively powered by electricity, and the Ames/ISU Ice Arena.

The report also showed a steady increase in carbon dioxide emissions from CyRide and other city gasoline and diesel vehicles. Non-CyRide emissions have increased steadily in the past three years, and one factor to this increase was severe winters that Ames recently experienced.

Another major contributor to Ames’ CO2 emissions is the ISU Power Plant. The plant generates 470,000,000 tons of electricity through cogeneration.

“Cogeneration is a single source of fuel to simultaneously produce thermal energy, as well as electrical power,” said Jeff Witt, assistant director of utilities at Iowa State.

All energy comes from the 300 tons per day of coal that is burned. This amounts to 143,000 tons of coal, 15,000 tons of limestone and 25,000 tons of ash per year.

The limestone, which is burned with the coal, is used to control sulfur emissions. The limestone emissions converge with the 25,000 to 28,000 tons of ash generated. Ash doesn’t burn, but it is regulated.

“All ash is regulated and reused in accordance with IDNR regulations for beneficial uses,” Witt said.

The plant has recently purchased wind energy to generate a projected 10 percent of electricity; however, only 3.7 percent has been produced this August. Tests have also been conducted incorporating the burning of up to 15 percent of biomass with coal. The biomass consists of wood pellets and chips, as nothing else can be burned without a permit.

“We have to wait for Department of Natural Resources regulations,” Witt said.

Final testing has been done this week with the wood pellets, in hopes to satisfy the DNR’s regulations.

Ten percent of wood pellets burned can increase costs up to $700,000 per year with the estimate of fuel cost and transportation.

“Ninety to 95 percent of each of our carbon footprints has to do with the energy we use and the fuel we burn,” Witt said. “The things that we do, the things that you buy, take energy to make. There’s a carbon footprint associated with that. Our energy use is what drives our carbon footprint.”

Witt had considered adding better emissions control equipment which would reduce sulfur emissions and nitrogen oxides but increase CO2 emissions. The task would be cost inefficient and decrease the power plant’s efficiency.

The city of Ames strategizes to purchase more fuel-efficient vehicles, change habits in building and vehicle usage and invest in solar lighting with street, traffic and park lights. It would cost a total $400,000 in improvements.

Traffic lightbulb replacements are to contribute to less energy consumption, Hinderaker said. The city of Ames is currently working on replacing all traffic signals with new LED traffic signals. The lightbulbs inside those are smaller, brighter and more energy efficient.