El Hierro, the smallest and southern-most island of the Canaries, made headlines recently after it announced plans to become the world’s first island to eradicate its carbon footprint and run completely off 100% renewable energy sources. The Huffington Post reported how El Hierro will be powered by an 11.5 MW wind farm, 11.3 MW of hydroelectric power and a whole bunch of solar thermal collectors and grid-connected photovoltaics. The fact that oil will no longer be transported to this remote location will offset 18,200 tons of carbon dioxide alone. These are undeniably impressive statistics and the project represents a wonderful opportunity for Swiss-Swedish power giant, ABB. Plans call for this ambitious project to be completed by the end of 2011 and will cost $87 million. However there is one problem with the claim that El Hierro is “the world’s first renewable energy island” – it isn’t.

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Back in November 2009 I wrote about the small Danish island of Samsø, 15km off the Jutland Peninsula. In 1997, Samsø won a government competition to become a model renewable energy community. Since then, 21 wind turbines have been built on Samsø – an island 48 km long and 24 km wide with a population of approximately 4000. Ten were built on a sandbank off the island’s south coast and another 11 dotted all over the island, and the island has long been considered one of the most successful green energy projects to have launched since environmentalists started raising the alarm about climate change around thirty years ago. Alongside the turbines, the houses in Samsø’s 22 villages are heated by power plants powered by furnaces fired by wood chips and straw and farms of man-sized solar panels in fields kept trim by herds of sheep.

But this takes nothing away from what the people of El Hierro, with a population of more than double that of Samsø’s, are set to achieve. Projects like these must be celebrated. El Hierro and Samsø are the places where the seeds of our energy future are being sewn. Although it is the financial backing and expertise of private companies like ABB that make these projects a practical reality, it is the foresight and ambition of environmentalists and the will of the people of places such as El Hierro and Samsø that make them possible in the first instance.

Via Huffington Post

Photos by Jose Mesa