Green Boomtown: Union City, Indiana
These days, many cities and towns are turning green; using domestic, renewable fuels to replace petroleum in their fleet vehicles, enacting anti-idling laws, and encouraging good practices like recycling. But one Indiana city has done more than just embrace these principles, they've reinvented themselves as an environmental boom town, where the rush is not for gold, but for green!
Twenty years ago, Union City, Indiana was literally the poster child for the decline of small-town America. Factories were closing, the population was aging, the town was out of sync with the modern world, out of luck, and nearly out of options.
It needed a spark to turn things around, and that came in the form of local high school teacher, John Zakelj .
In 2007, John lobbied the school to install a small wind turbine and solar panel so he could teach his students about renewable energy.
JOHN ZAKELJ: It's interesting technology, kids would get excited about it, they'd be proud of the fact that we have it here at school; great opportunity to get them involved in talking about it, asking questions about it.
At around the same time on the other side of town, a local resident started a small company to convert gasoline vehicles to run on alternative fuels, and even created a hybrid gas-electric school bus, one of the first in the nation.
JOE WRAY: The community leaders have really helped us a lot in this town, and our goal is to give back to the community; and by creating jobs and green technologies and helping the environment.
A capital investment by the city enabled PCI to expand operations, and it now has contracts with UPS and the Indiana Department of Transportation to perform fleet conversions to propane, and with General Motors to manufacture their factory-authorized CNG vans. The company has now become a subsidiary of IMPCO Technologies, which also owns the FuelMaker brand of CNG compressors.
Encouraged by the success of the school's wind and solar experiment, Union City partnered with the Randolph Eastern school district in 2009 and has now installed a pair of 1-megawatt wind turbines, the first such partnership in the nation.
The 330-foot tall turbines will provide over $3.1 million in revenue for the school and city over the next twenty years, and the school's renewable energy lab is now a pilot program for a statewide high school curriculum.
UNION CITY MAYOR: It's a perfect storm in a good sense that the whole community, not only the school system, city government, but local businesses have embraced looking at options, and we became one of the first communities in the nation to have a wind turbine for both the school system and the community.
But it's kind of unique for a small community to be able to come together. And I tell people it's a ripple effect because as it starts out, when you drop a pebble in the water, and it kind of ripples out, to see what takes place and then it gets infectious. We all just play off each other.
Union City was also chosen as the site for this Cardinal Ethanol plant, one of the nation's largest, which opened here in 2008 and produces 100 million gallons of ethanol a year. The plant uses 36 million bushels of corn, much of it local, and also creates 320,000 tons of distillers dried grains for cattle feed.
Throughout it all, the Greater Indiana Clean Cities Coalition has helped to rally this diverse group of partners as they work together on a variety of clean energy initiatives. As a result, Union City's "Green Rush" has revitalized this community with new jobs, new revenue and new thinking for the future. And ironically, the same newspaper has once again featured Union City on its front page, but this time with a much different message.