The Iowa Energy Center announced more than $800,000 in grant funding to two University of Northern Iowa projects working to boost energy efficiency in underserved rural areas and educate the next generation about career opportunities in an ever-evolving energy market.

The IEC awarded $418,696 to the Developing an Iowa Energy Curriculum for Secondary Classrooms project proposed by UNI’s Earth and Environmental Sciences department, which will develop and disseminate an energy curriculum for Iowa middle and high school students that incorporates career connections into each topic.

The project will offer teachers a variety of classroom materials to select from and will provide an important update to the last energy curriculum UNI produced in the 1990s, when coal generation was more prevalent and wind and solar energy generation were significantly smaller, said Alan Czarnetzki, a UNI professor in earth and environmental sciences who is the principal investigator on the project.

“There also is great employment potential in the power sector of Iowa's economy,” Czarnetzki said. “We want to help students learn about those opportunities at a time in their education when many are starting to think about careers.”

The IEC also awarded $395,680 to the Iowa Rural Energy Planning project submitted by the Center for Energy & Environmental Education, which will create 20 new positions for high schoolers, college students and young professionals who will work to improve energy efficiency in 8-10 rural areas.

The project will help schools reduce costs through energy benchmarking and energy efficiency investments based on energy-planning services. It will also seek to lower costs for small businesses through hands-on business lighting assessments to identify lighting upgrades and provide residents with money-saving energy audits and weatherization services for their homes.

The work will be carried in conjunction with the Green Iowa AmeriCorps program and the University of Northern Iowa’s Energy Planning services.

“This work is vital in not only providing more individuals with professional development opportunities in the growing field of energy efficiency, but it allows rural communities to receive services in a comprehensive way,” said Ashley Craft, program director for UNI’s Green Iowa AmeriCorps. “We know that many of our communities are struggling financially, as schools, as small businesses, and as residents. This project has the ability to help each of these community hubs save money and feel additional support during challenging times.” 

In total, the IEC awarded more than $2.7 million to 11 projects throughout the state. 

“Iowa is the proud home to a robust and diverse mix of energy resources, advantages and talented professionals,” said Debi Durham, director of the Iowa Economic Development Authority (IEDA) and the Iowa Finance Authority.  “The varied projects funded are a great example of Iowa further investing to advance our energy economy.”

Additionally, Dan Nickey with the University of Northern Iowa’s Iowa Waste Reduction Center was recently elected vice chair to the IEC Board. 

“I am honored to assist in the leadership of this board,” Nickey said. “The collaboration between stakeholders has created a successful program that I look forward to contributing to.”

The IEC is managed by IEDA and overseen by a governor-appointed board composed of representatives from academia, state government and the state’s electric and gas utilities.