Burlington, Vermont, a city of 42,000 people, is now powered by 100 percent renewable energy sources – most of the time, at least. The city set itself this target around a decade ago, and recently completed the transition to renewables when the Burlington Electric Department bought a 7.4-megawatt hydroelectric system on the Winooski River near the city’s border. The hydro scheme joined the city’s existing wind-powered systems and a biomass facility, which processes leftover woodchips from the local logging industry. The only time Burlington may have to draw on nonrenewable sources from now on is if there is not enough wind.
Vermont as a state has committed itself to 90 percent renewable power sources by 2050, and that includes electricity, heating, and transportation. Burlington made the commitment to a 100 percent renewable energy target when the city crunched the numbers and realized it was financially feasible and that residents would not pay more for the renewably sourced energy. “The transition in thought from 2004 to 2008 was ‘We want to do this’ to ‘This actually makes economic sense for us to do this,'” the manager of power resources for Burlington Electric, Ken Nolan, told the Associated Press.
Critics of the 100 percent renewable label point out that the city does still have to buy fossil fuel derived power when the renewable sources can’t supply enough. But when renewably sourced power is plentiful, the city sells the excess back to the grid too. In all, Burlington sells more power than it buys in. The city also trades in renewable energy credits, selling them at a premium to New England, and then buying them in from cheaper sources. This practice helps the city keep electricity prices low and stable, although it does have its critics too.
However, being powered by 100 percent renewable sources even only most of the time is a remarkable achievement. It’s proof that a city of this size can do it. With such strong support for renewably sourced power from consumers and government, Vermont looks well on its way to achieving its 2050 target.