Quantcast

Burlington, Vermont Becomes First U.S. City to Run On 100% Renewable Electricity

Business

Burlington, Vermont is that state's largest city, with a population of 42,000 people. It describes itself as "forward-thinking" which is what you'd expect from a city that once elected Senator Bernie Sanders as its mayor. So it's no surprise that it recently became the first U.S. city of any decent size to run entirely on renewable electricity.

Renewable electricity generation isn't the only way this forward-thinking city is addressing climate change, the environment and sustainability. Burlington Electric Department has aggressive energy efficiency programs and boasts that it uses less electricity now than it did in 1989. Photo credit: Burlington Electric Department

"Climate change is the biggest problem we face, maybe the biggest problem we’ve ever faced," University of Vermont environmental science professor Taylor Ricketts told NPR. "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?"

The city's publicly owned utility, the Burlington Electric Department (BED), says in its mission statement, "BED will continue to be a leader in sustainability by producing power that is as clean and as locally produced as possible. BED will continue to treat the environment with the utmost respect and will continue to influence decisions and public policy that enhance environmental quality, the use of renewable resources, and the sustainability of Burlington."

The city lives up to that mission by acquiring its energy in diverse ways, including biomass, hydroelectric, solar and wind. Its biggest power generator is hydro, which the city acquires from dams both locally and elsewhere in the region. Its biomass facility, the McNeil generating station, provides another 30 percent of its power. It runs on burning wood chips, although it can run on natural gas or oil on an interruptible basis. The wood chips are the residue of the region's logging industry and come primarily from within 60 miles of the city, reducing transportation costs. Wind turbines and solar panels provide another 20 percent of its electricity.

In addition, BED says, "McNeil is equipped with a series of air quality control devices that limit the particulate stack emissions to one-tenth the level allowed by Vermont state regulation. McNeil's emissions are one one-hundredth of the allowable federal level. The only visible emission from the plant is water vapor during the cooler months of the year."

Renewable electricity generation isn't the only way this forward-thinking city is addressing climate change, the environment and sustainability. BED has aggressive energy efficiency programs and boasts that it uses less electricity now than it did in 1989. And despite its small size, Burlington already has nine charging stations for electric vehicles.

And contrary to those who insist that renewably generated electricity is an expensive luxury that only a bunch of Phish-loving Vermont hippies will pay for, Ken Nolan of BED told NPR that the switch to renewables was initially driven by economic concerns and will likely save the city $20 million over the next decade.

"Greenhouse gas reduction is a major thing that we’re concerned about and we are always trying to improve on," he said. "But in looking at whether to buy renewable power, we really were focused on an economic decision at the time. 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."

YOU MIGHT ALSO LIKE

Sustainable Energy Revolution Grows, Says Bloomberg Report

Robert Redford: Fossil Fuels Need to Stay in the Ground, Renewable Energy Is the Future

Solar Is Cheaper Than Electricity From the Grid in 42 of 50 Largest U.S. Cities

EcoWatch Daily Newsletter


Jose A. Bernat Bacete / Moment / Getty Images

By Bridget Shirvell

On a farm in upstate New York, a cheese brand is turning millions of pounds of food scraps into electricity needed to power its on-site businesses. Founded by eight families, each with their own dairy farms, Craigs Creamery doesn't just produce various types of cheddar, mozzarella, Swiss and Muenster cheeses, sold in chunks, slices, shreds and snack bars; they're also committed to becoming a zero-waste operation.

Read More Show Less
Coal ash has contaminated the Vermilion River in Illinois. Eco-Justice Collaborative / CC BY-SA 2.0

By Jessica A. Knoblauch

Summers in the Midwest are great for outdoor activities like growing your garden or cooling off in one of the area's many lakes and streams. But some waters aren't as clean as they should be.

That's in part because coal companies have long buried toxic waste known as coal ash near many of the Midwest's iconic waterways, including Lake Michigan. Though coal ash dumps can leak harmful chemicals like arsenic and cadmium into nearby waters, regulators have done little to address these toxic sites. As a result, the Midwest is now littered with coal ash dumps, with Illinois containing the most leaking sites in the country.

Read More Show Less
Sponsored

picture-alliance / AP Photo / NOAA Pacific Islands Fisheries Science Center

The Group of 20 major economies agreed a deal to reduce marine pollution at a meeting of their environment ministers on Sunday in Karuizawa, Japan.

Read More Show Less
Pope Francis holds his General Weekly Audience in St. Peter's Square on Aug. 29, 2018 in Vatican City, Vatican. Giulio Origlia / Getty Images

Pope Francis declared a climate emergency Friday as he met with oil industry executives and some of their biggest investors to urge them to act on the climate crisis.

Read More Show Less
A vegetarian bowl with quinoa fritters. Westend61 / Getty Images

By Ketura Persellin

You've likely heard that eating meat and poultry isn't good for your health or the planet. Recent news from Washington may make meat even less palatable: Pork inspections may be taken over by the industry itself, if a Trump administration proposal goes into effect, putting tests for deadly pathogens into the hands of the industry.

Read More Show Less
Sponsored
Florida's Deerfield Beach International Fishing Pier, where the record-breaking beach cleanup took place Saturday. Jeffrey Greenberg / Universal Images Group via Getty Images

More than 600 people gathered on a Florida beach Saturday to break the world record for the largest underwater cleanup of ocean litter.

Read More Show Less
Juvenile hatchery salmon flushed from a tanker truck in San Francisco Bay, California. Ben Moon

That salmon sitting in your neighborhood grocery store's fish counter won't look the same to you after watching Artifishal, a new film from Patagonia.

Read More Show Less
Natdanai Pankong / EyeEm / Getty Images

By Lauren Panoff, MPH, RD

Coconut meat is the white flesh inside a coconut.

Read More Show Less