Burlington, Vt., has announced that 100-percent of its electricity is now coming from renewable sources.
The city said most of the electricity is generated by hydropower, tapping from a local river as well as a dam in Maine. More than a third of the power comes from a biomass facility, which burns scrap wood to create steam for power. Wind turbines in a nearby town and the airport’s solar arrays supply the remaining electricity.
Unlike many “green” alternatives, Ken Nolan says that the city’s renewable energy doesn’t come at a premium. Nolan is the manager of power resources for utility provider Burlington Electric and is a board member for Renewable Energy Vermont.
“Our financial analysis at that time indicated to our – actually, to our surprise – that the cheapest long-term financial investment for us with the least amount of risk was to move in this direction,” Nolan said.
Not only has this renewable energy system prevented increases in the electric bill for the past six years, said Nolan, but he estimated that overall, in the next 20 years the city will save $20 million.
Not everyone is cheering, though. Sandra Levine, a senior attorney at the Conservation Law Foundation, said that Burlington’s statement isn’t entirely true. She cited “liberties” taken with the city’s accounting, and said sources such as the hydro plant in Maine aren’t as environmentally friendly as they could be.
“You’re on the path. But, you’re not really there,” said Levine in response to Burlington’s declaration. “And I really look to Burlington Electric to provide some stronger leadership to really show how what they are doing is adding to the overall renewable supply for the region. Because that’s where we need to be going.”
Regardless, Taylor Ricketts, an environmental science professor at the University of Vermont, praised the city’s accomplishment:
“I think it’s a big milestone for Burlington. But broader than that, it just shows that it can be done.”
To critics that question if this approach can be replicated nationwide, or doubt that Burlington is large enough to effect an impact on the environment, Rickets said that’s not the point.
“Climate change is the biggest problem we face, maybe the biggest problem we’ve ever faced,” said Ricketts. “But there’s no silver bullet to fix it. It’s gonna be a million individual solutions from all over the place. And this is one of Burlington’s, right?”
Whatever approach a city is considering, Nolan recommends taking it one step at a time:
“The way you get there is by giving the folks who are actually building the projects the money they need to build the projects.”