Alliant Energy Branching Out Program and Aquila Trees Forever Community Program

(Marion, IA)- Trees Forever partners with local utility companies to sponsor energy-efficient reforestation and beautification projects in towns and cities throughout Iowa. Through these collaborative efforts, the first of which began 17 years ago, 1.1 million landscape-size trees have been planted by more than 131,000 volunteers in over 450 communities. A total of 2,696 matching grants have been provided.


Category: Partnerships with Utility Companies
OVERVIEW
According to Trees Forever, these projects have produced energy savings of more than 14.6 million kilowatt-hours and 112,579 decatherms. Trees planted during the first 16 years of the largest utility partnership program have saved enough energy to power 1,460 homes for one year.
The planted trees have absorbed more than 186 million gallons of storm water and sequestered close to 95 million pounds of carbon.
In addition to the substantial environmental benefits, the programs have significantly enhanced the utilities’ public relations and community outreach efforts.
Trees Forever’s largest planting programs are with Alliant Energy, a utility company that provides electricity and natural gas to communities in Iowa and other midwestern states, and Aquila (formerly People’s Natural Gas), a natural gas provider in Iowa and other midwestern states. In addition, a number of municipal utilities have partnered with Trees Forever.
In 2006 Trees Forever assisted 145 communities in planting more than 10,600 trees through these utility partnerships.
BACKGROUND
Trees Forever is a regional nonprofit based in Marion, Iowa, whose mission is “to plant and care for trees and the environment by empowering people, building community, and promoting stewardship.” Established in 1989, Trees Forever has developed or been involved with numerous innovative grassroots programs in Iowa, Illinois and Minnesota to improve water quality, care for community forests and restore and beautify roadsides.
Trees Forever has provided more than $8.3 million dollars in funding and assistance to local volunteers and landowners since the organization began. More than over 2.78 million trees and shrubs have been planted with Tree Forever’s assistance.
Utility partnerships
In 1990 Iowa enacted legislation requiring utility companies to spend a portion of their revenues to promote more efficient energy use. As a result of this legislation, utilities developed a number of programs such as energy-efficiency workshops, storm-window programs and tree-planting efforts. Plans for these programs must be periodically submitted for approval by the Iowa Utilities Board.
Karmen Wilhelm, senior communications program manager for Alliant Energy, says that the partnership with Trees Forever is one the most popular and visible efforts that Alliant undertakes to promote energy efficiency. The Trees Forever partnership offers the utility significant opportunities for public and customer relations as well as providing energy efficiency and environmental benefits. The program makes a visible impact in beautifying the communities it serves and is an enormous source of pride for utility employees who live and work there.
When developing its tree-planting program, Alliant Energy saw the value in partnering with Trees Forever because of the nonprofit’s established community relationships as well as its technical expertise in tree planting and care. Wilhelm says that both groups benefit from the partnership. Each group has community relationships that the other does not but would like to develop. In addition, the groups share goals and a mission for the program.
COMPONENTS
Role of Trees Forever and Role of Utility
Alliant Energy and Aquila each provide annual funding to Trees Forever for program grants and program delivery. In 2006, Alliant gave more than $213,000 in grant monies and $124,000 for program delivery. Trees Forever funded 105 tree planting programs with these funds. Aquila gave close to $60,000 for program grants and $40,000 for program delivery. This financed approximately 40 tree planting grants.
Trees Forever’s role is to provide overall coordination. This includes promoting the program, printing and reviewing applications, administering matching grants, and supporting local groups with a wide-range of assistance — from volunteer recruitment, local fundraising, planting and caring for trees and reporting on program results. Trees Forever has 18 staff members in Iowa. Eight are field representatives and 10 are administrative. All 18 play some role in operating these programs.
Staff members from both utilities provide support to the program, including representatives from customer service, corporate communications and demand-side management.
Trees Forever staff and the utility representatives work together to determine program criteria and grant-recipient selection. Trees Forever and both utilities promote the program in a variety of ways, including through press releases and postings on their websites.
What is funded?
Grants are awarded to local communities for:
* Planting trees around homes for energy efficiency
* Beautifying parks, schools, city streets, churches, public buildings and businesses
* Replacing storm-damaged or diseased trees or trees conflicting with utility lines
* Reforestation efforts, such as windbreaks and buffers on public land
* Tree projects at youth or adult education camps
* Multi-generational projects that involve youth and seniors working together
* Other creative ideas.
Grant applicants are encouraged to show broad community support, opportunities for youth education and involvement, and a plan for long-term care of the trees. Matching funds (dollar-for-dollar match) are required for the Aquila program and are strongly encouraged under the Alliant program.
Criteria on which the applications are evaluated can be found on Trees Forever’s website, www.treesforever.org.
Eligibility
Communities must receive utility services from Alliant Energy or Aquila to be eligible for either of the two programs.
How to apply
Applications for both programs are available at the Trees Forever website.
Applications are accepted year-round. Alliant Energy grants are awarded twice a year – in the spring and the fall. Aquila grants are funded once a year.
Trees Forever does the initial evaluation of applications and makes recommendations to the respective utilities. Together they make final decisions. Alliant’s Wilhelm says that it is important that both the utility and the nonprofit be part of the final decision, as they view the applications from different perspectives.
Funding
Grants range between $500 and $10,000 for Alliant and $500 to $7,000 for Aquila. Grant recipients not only receive funds but also on-site technical and planning assistance from Trees Forever.
RESULTS
As tallied by Trees Forever, cumulative results for the Alliant partnership between 1989 and 2006 plus the Aquila partnership between 1992 and 2006 are:
* 1.1 million landscape-size trees planted
* 2,696 matching grants awarded
* 131,689 volunteers involved
Energy saved through the programs includes:
* Heating DTH – 112,579
* Heating kWh – 2,091,427
* Cooling kWh – 12,511,669
* Total kWh – 14,603,096
Environmental benefits are:
* Carbon pounds sequestered – 94,839,642
* Stormwater gallons offset 186,018,941
* Dollar savings from stormwater reduction – $2,011,547
* Dollar increase in property values – $7,168,466
LESSONS LEARNED
General
1. When utilities are allowed to fund tree planting programs out of their “consumer rate base,” there is a greater potential for creating large-scale programs. Under this scenario, tree planting becomes part of the utilities’ basic energy-efficiency program and is paid for by costs – not profits.
If your state does not have such a program, a collaborative effort with utilities, regulators, environmental leaders and other key stakeholders can work toward developing an energy policy that includes trees as part of the demand-side management strategy. Otherwise, the funds must come out of public relations or charitable dollars, which can significantly limit the scope of the program.
2. Take the long view. Devote significant time upfront when planning the program with the local government and residents. This may mean working to pass new city ordinances or changing the way the community currently addresses tree care. The long-term goal is for communities to establish tree planting and care as an on-going priority. The more community buy-in the program has, the more successful it will be over time.
3. Building relationships is key to the program’s success. Work to involve as many stakeholders as possible. Community buy-in and support may be easier to establish in smaller communities where residents can more easily see how the program will impact their homes. In larger communities, breaking the program into neighborhood-based projects can increase resident interest and support.
4. Remember the science! Trees provide substantial environmental and economic benefits to a community. Track your results and publicize them. This is not just a “feel good” program.
For the nonprofit
1. Good communication is essential when working with the local utility. Be flexible and open to new ideas. Share positive feedback and publicize your successes and their involvement.
2. Look at the utility from a holistic view when developing a tree-planting program. Do not just focus on the department of the utility that will be responsible for day-to-day operations of the program. Find out who needs to buy into the program throughout the utility and reach out to them. Representatives from the regulatory, public affairs, environmental safety, demand-side management and communications departments all need to support the program for it to be successful. Take the time upfront to establish this base of support.
3. Be patient. Utilities are larger and more bureaucratic than most nonprofit organizations. Build the extra time that may be needed to get decisions made.
For the utility
1. Tree planting programs provide exceptional opportunities for public relations and customer relations beyond the energy efficiency and environmental benefits.
2. The more you invest in the program, the more you benefit. Karmen Wilhelm says that Alliant Energy’s role in the tree-planting program has evolved significantly since the program’s inception. At the start, Alliant basically treated Trees Forever as a vendor. Alliant supplied the funds, and Trees Forever delivered the service. Over time, Alliant has become increasingly involved in the program and has found that “the true benefits and learning come from being an active, involved and invested partner.”
3. Keep reviewing the program and your role in it. It makes sense to modify and change the program over time.
Contact Information
Meredith Borchardt, Project Manager
Trees Forever
770 7th Avenue
Marion, IA 52302
Phone: (800) 369-1269
Fax: (319) 373-0528
(c) 2007 Alliance for Community Trees