Upper Great Plains taps South Sioux City for Administrator’s Award

WAPA Administrator Mark Gabriel will present WAPA’s prestigious Administrator’s Award to South Sioux City, Nebraska, You are leaving WAPA.gov. Oct. 18 at the Delta Hotels in South Sioux City.  The presentation is part of 2017 National Bioenergy Day, You are leaving WAPA.gov. an event that will be attended by local, state and federal officials and high-ranking industry representatives. Gabriel will also deliver the keynote address, “The Importance of Renewable Energy Diversification,” at Bioenergy Day. The event will also include a tour of the new Green Star Energy You are leaving WAPA.gov. gasifier power plant.

Despite its small size—a population just over 13,000—South Sioux City has consistently delivered innovation along with affordable, reliable power year after year, warranting the honor the award confers on a WAPA customer. But these accomplishments feel almost secondary to the vision that made them happen. South Sioux City is well known among its peers and many other WAPA customers for being exceptionally forward thinking and tenacious at finding and leveraging win-win partnerships.

Leading in renewables
South Sioux City is pursuing clean, low-carbon electricity with a unique mix of projects.

A 2.3-megawatt (MW) photovoltaic array is only the latest example of the town’s efforts to reduce its carbon footprint. The 21-acre solar park began operation in January and generates the equivalent of 5 percent of the city’s total electricity needs. South Sioux City also recently selected a firm to build 15 MW of new wind power and signed an agreement to begin receiving generation from it in 2018. Both the wind and the solar projects are public-private partnerships.

South Sioux City’s Solar Park: 2.3-megawatt array (1,200 panels) located on a 21-acre solar park south of the city, alongside C Avenue. The array generates enough energy to provide 5 percent of South Sioux City’s electrical needs.

South Sioux City’s Solar Park: 2.3-megawatt array (1,200 panels) located on a 21-acre solar park south of the city, alongside C Avenue. The array generates enough energy to provide 5 percent of South Sioux City’s electrical needs. (Photo by Nebraskans for Solar)

In a region where agriculture and related businesses are the leading industries, biomass represents an energy resource that South Sioux City has captured through different projects. Three major food processing plants divert animal, grain and other wastes to an anaerobic digester that extracts methane from the stream and feeds it into the natural gas pipeline. The nearby Siouxland Ethanol Plant You are leaving WAPA.gov. displaces up to 9 percent of its natural gas needs for ethanol production with landfill gas from the LP Gill landfill.

The Scenic Park campground was the site of a pilot program in 2015, using a gasifier woody biomass system to generate 50 kilowatts of electricity from wood waste from storm damage. The unit was so successful that South Sioux City entered into an agreement with Green Star Energy to build a 3-MW gasifier. The new power plant will take city and industrial waste wood and dead and dying trees destined for the landfill and convert it into electricity.

Another potential project with Green Star Energy shows that South Sioux City has not lost sight of the tried-and-true renewable resources. The partners are seeking funding to build an innovative hydropower generator along the Missouri River that flows through the south end of the city. The run-of-river turbine design resembles a boat dock, would be safe for fish and aquatic animals and could produce enough electricity to save South Sioux City about $450 each day.

Conserve, reduce, manage
Energy innovation in South Sioux City is not limited to developing new resources. Planning and wise use are just as important to creating a cleaner, sustainable energy supply.

When peak demand needs to be curtailed, the city takes a two-pronged approach. First, a major industrial load voluntarily ramps down its demand by 11 percent to save not only its own energy costs but the energy costs for the city as a whole. On the residential side, the municipal utility has placed demand meters into service to control peak demand from air conditioner use. Both strategies have helped the community to contain electric costs.

South Sioux City has performed energy audits on all city buildings and facilities, and made improvements to systems such as lighting and heating and cooling, to save energy.

South Sioux City has performed energy audits on all city buildings and facilities, and made improvements to systems such as lighting and heating and cooling, to save energy. (Photo by Ammodramus)

The municipal utility has performed energy audits on all city buildings and facilities to identify energy-saving opportunities. Improvements included adding variable speed drives, converting street and signal lighting to LED and installing LED office lighting. Energy-efficient heating and cooling measures and practices have also been implemented in city buildings.

To address the need for backup support and electric demand relief during peak times, the city is designing a 5-MW, state-of-the-art natural gas-powered generating station. Excess generation from the unit will be offered to the Southwest Power Pool You are leaving WAPA.gov. markets.

Practicing stewardship
South Sioux City was the first city in Nebraska to implement a paperless city council. In addition to reducing environmental impacts, the approach simplifies the archiving of council activities and makes it easier for the public to access more information. A voice-activated council chamber video recording system allows citizens to access live and archived meetings.

Tree health and sustainability are important to South Sioux City, which has qualified for the Arbor Day Foundation’s You are leaving WAPA.gov. Tree City USA designation for 25 years and earned the Growth Award for 10 years. For the past eight years, the city has planted one new tree for every 30 residents.

Residents enjoy the city’s two community gardens and the more than 200 fruit trees the city planted in 2014. The orchard is part of a facility designed in partnership with the University of Nebraska – Lincoln to provide storage and opportunities for youth outdoor learning activities. The new building is the first compressed laminated timber structure in Nebraska. Ash tree planks salvaged from emerald ash borer kill and milled by the Nebraska Forest Service side the building. The project received the 2017 Community Enhancement Award from the Arbor Day Foundation.

South Sioux City’s extensive trail network earned the first “Bicycle Friendly Community Award” in Nebraska in 2006, and hosts many rides, runs and other events throughout the year.

South Sioux City’s extensive trail network earned the first “Bicycle Friendly Community Award” in Nebraska in 2006, and hosts many rides, runs and other events throughout the year. (Photo by South Sioux City)

Quality of life is part of environmental health too, and South Sioux City actively promotes healthy lifestyles. The city’s extensive network of developed trails earned the first “Bicycle Friendly Community Award” in Nebraska in 2006. The trail system connects to 60 miles of trails in four cities and three states, and hosts many rides, runs and other events throughout the year.

Partners make it happen
Innovation doesn’t occur in a vacuum and partnership is as critical to South Sioux City’s efforts as vision is. City Administrator Lance Hedquist acknowledges that the city’s success with energy efficiency and renewable energy projects results from the support and trust of the mayor, council and staff who share his passion to make the city a great place to live and work.

South Sioux City’s collective approach to innovation, partnerships, governance and trust would be impressive in a city many times its size. In a small municipality, it deserves recognition: WAPA is proud to honor South Sioux City with the Administrator’s Award.

South Sioux City, Nebraska, dreams big, achieves much

Move over, New York City, Chicago and Los Angeles. There is another, different kind of economic capital on the map. Located on the northeastern Nebraska-Iowa border, South Sioux City, Nebraska, is doing big things.

That is what former Nebraska Governor Dave Heineman called the Western customer in an address to the city. Upper Great Plains Customer Service Representative Tracy Thorne is also impressed. “This is an incredibly innovative community for one of its size,” he observed.

Although the city is Nebraska’s 14th largest, South Sioux City has a modest population of 13,353 citizens. Its municipal utility provides electricity, water, sewer and fiber optics services to 4,500 meters. “Our fiber optic network is 15 years old, and we have 99.9 percent penetration,” stated City Administrator Lance Hedquist proudly.

South Sioux City Mayor Rod Koch kicks off the groundbreaking ceremony for a new methane digester that will turn food processing waste into natural gas. (Photo by South Sioux City)

South Sioux City Mayor Rod Koch kicks off the groundbreaking ceremony for a new methane digester that will turn food processing waste into natural gas. (Photo by South Sioux City)

Sustainability creates jobs
South Sioux City also boasts higher employment than the state average, thanks in part to an active manufacturing sector that includes a thriving food processing industry.  The waste stream from turning soy, oats, corn, dairy and meat into value-added products is what brought Big Ox Energy to town. The waste recycling provider is building a $40 million methane digester to convert industrial food waste into renewable gas. “Manufacturers used to have to pay to have byproducts removed from the waste before sending it to the regional sewage treatment plant,” Hedquist said. “The digester will help the industry reduce its waste treatment and disposal costs.”

When the digester is completed later this year, it will add 30 permanent jobs to the local economy, and that is only the beginning of the benefits. Big Ox is planning for more digesters in the area to meet the strong demand for renewable digester gas from businesses that use it to meet environmental goals and mandates. Having a sustainable waste management system in place will also make South Sioux City attractive to other food processing companies.

Kevin Bradley, business development director of Big Ox Energy, and his assistants begin construction on the methane digester. When completed, the unit will add 30 jobs to the local economy and reduce waste treatment costs for local food processing businesses. (Photo by South Sioux City)

Kevin Bradley, business development director of Big Ox Energy, begins construction on the methane digester with help from friends. When completed, the unit will add 30 jobs to the local economy and reduce waste treatment costs for local food processing businesses. (Photo by South Sioux City)

Demonstrating leadership
The anaerobic digester project is only the latest coup for a city that is proving that small towns can be environmental leaders. Hedquist attributes the city’s forward-looking attitude to enlightened mayors and city council members. “When they go to conferences to learn about best practices, they have to come back with ideas,” the city administrator explained, “and they do!”

Among the ideas that the city has implemented are an all-electric city car fleet, Nebraska’s first paperless city council and an eco-bike path made entirely of recycled material. Those last two projects earned South Sioux City an award from the National Recycling Coalition.

Recently, the city undertook a “campground electrification” project, leveraging funds from the Nebraska Department of Environmental Quality and the Department of Agriculture. The new electric generator uses wood waste from industry and untreated, ground wood from city cleanups to light up the city-owned campground. “It’s a small unit that we can expand as needed,” commented Hedquist.

Perhaps most impressive, South Sioux City has paid off its property tax debt, meaning that infrastructure improvements are pay-as-you-go, noted Hedquist. “That’s practically unheard of,” he added.

The South Sioux City Chamber of Commerce (red coats) teams up with the Sioux City Chamber (green coats) to support local businesses like the family-owned Express Laundry Center.

Rob and Amanda Beller and son Max cut the ribbon on the Express Laundry Center. When the South Sioux City Chamber of Commerce (red coats) team up with the Sioux City Chamber (green coats), local, family-owned businesses win. (Photo by South Sioux City)

Secret is partnership
One way South Sioux City has been able to stay property tax debt-free is to partner with other municipalities and agencies on projects that meet mutual goals. The city Parks and Recreation Department worked with South Sioux City Community Schools to create an arboretum along the extensive local trail system. The South Sioux City Community Development Agency, South Sioux City Chamber of Commerce, Dakota County and the school board collaborated  with the city on redeveloping the riverfront area along the Missouri River with a drive-in movie wall and a stage for concerts and dancing.

Being a member of the Siouxland Economic Development Corporation, which covers a ten-county area in Iowa, Nebraska and South Dakota, facilitates inter-local agreements with neighboring towns. Collaborations have resulted in tax revenue-sharing plans from economic development efforts and a project to build more electric vehicle charging stations in the tristate area.

Interconnecting the public water system to the Dakota County Rural water system—a first for Nebraska—ensures that South Sioux City residents have a redundant water supply in case anything happens to the local water supply. “Always have a backup plan,” said Hedquist. “That’s the secret to success.”

Keeping citizens happy
That philosophy extends to new energy resources as well. This month, South Sioux City is accepting bids on the purchase of wind power and proposals for a 3- to 4-megawatt solar installation. “I don’t see how this can’t be a way to reduce costs,” Hedquist said.

Hedging fuel costs with renewable energy makes good sense, which may be the true secret behind South Sioux City’s success. Behind all the big dreams is careful planning, long-term thinking and an effort to make sure that nothing goes to waste, including the trust of residents. “The community knows we listen to them every step of the way,” Hedquist acknowledged. “They have seen the results and they like them.”