Dubuque still leads on sustainability

Last year Bleeding Heartland discussed some promising changes in Dubuque, thanks to the vision of community leaders who launched the SustainableDubuque initiative in 2006. Now called the "Dubuque 2.0" sustainability initiative, the program has helped bring the city a long list of recognitions and awards.

Government and public entities: The U.S. Conference of Mayors named Dubuque the country's "Most Livable Small City" for 2008. The Economic Development Administration (an agency within the federal Commerce Department) gave the an award for "excellence in historic preservation-led strategies" in 2009. The U.S. Environmental Protection Agency, Department of Transportation and Department of Housing and Urban Development selected Dubuque for sustainability pilot programs, also in 2009. The Iowa League of Cities named Dubuque an All-Star Community this year.

Business groups and business-oriented media: Dubuque landed on Sperling's Best Places top ten "Most Affordable Places to Live and Work" in 2009; was third best in the country for job growth, according to Careerbuilder.com in 2010; and was the seventh best city under 200,000 population in "Economic Growth Potential," according to Business Facilities magazine in 2010. Dubuque also won an Excellence in Economic Development award this year from the International Economic Development Council, while Forbes.com named it both the "Best Small City to Raise a Family" and "Best Smaller Metro for Projected Job Growth" nationwide.

Non-profit organizations: Dubuque came in third place at the International Awards for Livable Communities in 2010 in the category of cities with populations between 20,000 and 75,000. The city won the 1000 Friends of Iowa 2010 Best Development Award in the leadership category for its recently adopted Unified Development Code, which "promotes best practices in sustainable development and will serve as a model for other cities in Iowa." (Side note: Dubuque also contains more private Best Development Award winning-projects than any other Iowa city. Most recently, the "beauty and authenticity" of the Hotel Julien historic rehabilitation earned it the 1000 Friends of Iowa 2010 Best Development Award in the renovated and commercial/civic category.)

Too many Iowa politicians portray eco-friendly policies as bad for business or economic growth. Dubuque is proving that sustainability makes a community more attractive to potential job-creators:

According to Mike Blouin, president of the Greater Dubuque Development Corporation, the cachet that comes with operating a business in a sustainable region is becoming increasingly important.

"A growing segment of companies -- manufacturers and service providers -- want to be a part of this trend," he said. "They want to be a part of communities that are into sustainability, and they believe it will be easier to attract the kind of workforce they want there. Or companies may manufacture items used in these sustainable communities. Whatever it might be, they want sustainability to be a part of their message."

He added, "You can be pro-economic development and be sustainable. They're not mutually exclusive. A smarter city is not the initial thing companies look at, because they still have to make money. The community has to make sense overall, but if it does, sustainability could very well be a deal-maker. If there are a half-dozen cities in front of a company, it may look at smarter sustainability and see that it fits the company's philosophy. Final decisions are made by those kinds of factors."

In 2009, the IBM corporation renovated the historic Roshek building in partnership with the city of Dubuque and selected the city for sustainability pilot programs. After the jump I've posted more details on some projects implemented this year. These benefit the city by finding ways to reduce costs and use of resources, and benefit IBM by promoting technologies it hopes to sell to other cities.

Water use

More than a year ago, Dubuque implemented "a city-wide water meter upgrade project, working with local manufacturer A.Y. McDonald to install a device called an Unmeasured Flow Reducer, or UFR, which helps with accuracy during low-flow water use." In October of this year, Dubuque and IBM launched the Smarter Sustainable Dubuque Water Pilot Study with about 300 participating households:

The new system will allow consumers to identify waste and consider corrective measures which will translate into better water utilization and energy savings. Reduction in water use will reduce use of both energy and chlorine, resulting in significant savings and environmental benefit.

As the City of Dubuque enhances its water management system, IBM's technology will interface with the water systems to ingest water consumption data and provide near real-time visibility into the overall city water consumption. To accomplish this, IBM has built the IBM Smarter City Sustainability Model, which is a cloud delivered asset that provides the city with an integrated view of its water consumption, and energy management. This system is being piloted in 311 residences throughout the city of Dubuque.

The smarter meter system will monitor water consumption every 15 minutes and will collect and communicate to the IBM Research Cloud. Cloud computing is Internet-based computing, whereby shared resources, software, and information are provided to computers and other devices on demand.  Organizations are looking to cloud computing to foster rapid innovation and decision making, for the agility needed to respond quickly in today's highly competitive environment, to reduce capital and operational costs, and an environment that scales easily to effectively meet customer needs. The data being collected will be anonymous and contain no confidential information. In the cloud the data will be analyzed with triggers to spot potential leaks and anomalies, and help volunteers understand their consumption in greater detail. Volunteers can only view their own consumption habits while city management can see the aggregate data.

Electricity use

In partnership with IBM and Alliant Energy's Interstate Power and Light Company, more than than 1,200 households in Dubuque are participating in a smarter electricity study:

IBM and Alliant will provide technology and services that will allow volunteers to monitor their electric consumption much more frequently, instead of once a month on their utility bill. This will enable consumers to make better, more informed choices about when to use energy, and how much they are using, according to Dubuque 2.0.

AMI meters are being installed. They will provide anonymous customer electricity usage data to the city and IBM for analysis. IBM used the data to develop a consumer interface system to enable study volunteers to better understand their electricity use so they can consider changes to save energy, reduce costs and reduce carbon emissions. Study participants will be able to access their electricity usage and related data through an interactive website developed by IBM.

Natural gas use

About 250 households will participate in a study designed to reduce natural gas use, approved this month by the Dubuque City Council. IBM and Black Hills Energy are collaborating on this project:

Black Hills Energy is installing Automated Meter Reading (AMR) units on all residential natural gas meters in Dubuque and expects to be complete by year-end. The Smarter Natural Gas pilot study will utilize the AMR units to gather usage information of 250 volunteer homeowners in Dubuque. The two-year study will enable Black Hills Energy to provide data about gas usage to the city and IBM for research purposes. The data will be anonymous and homeowner-specific data will not be made available.

Black Hills Energy will handle the purchase, installation, and support of all needed equipment. The pilot will take advantage of existing infrastructure and processes already in place to support the Smarter Water and Smarter Electricity pilot studies of the Smarter Sustainable Dubuque initiative.

The city and Dubuque 2.0 will recruit and engage volunteers over the next month from a targeted geographic area defined by Black Hills Energy. Volunteer households selected for the pilot study will  be connected to the new meter reading system in January. Pilot study participants will eventually be able to access their hourly natural gas usage and related data through an interactive website, or portal, similar to what IBM developed for the Smarter Water pilot study and under development for the Smarter Electricity study with Alliant Energy.


Also in December 2010, the Dubuque City Council approved plans for a study on vehicle miles traveled.

The vehicle miles traveled study will see IBM invest between $1.5 million and $2 million to focus on transportation patterns and improvements, particularly in regard to Dubuque's public transit system.

Strategies to make cities less auto-dependent are needed to reduce greenhouse gas emissions, or else increased vehicle miles traveled in the coming decades "will overwhelm expected gains from vehicle efficiency and low-carbon fuels." Better public transit and more walkable cities provide numerous public health benefits as well. If IBM can make money while helping cities design better transportation systems, more power to them.

Projects tested in Dubuque are likely to be implemented in many other cities as part of IBM's $50 million Smarter Cities grant program. The company is taking applications through December 31 from cities around the world. If the projects help residents use less water, electricity and natural gas, they could be a win-win-win for individuals (who will pay less for utilities), cities (which will reduce costs), and of course IBM. I couldn't find out on the Smarter Cities site whether other Iowa communities have applied to participate. Local officials in Des Moines, Davenport and Iowa City have all adopted some good sustainability policies in recent years.

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