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

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."


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

Show Comments ()
Modern Event Preparedness / Flickr

5 Billion People Could Have Poor Access to Water by 2050, UN Warns

As the world's population grows and the planet warms, demand for water will rise but the quality and reliability of the supply is expected to deteriorate, the United Nations said Monday in this year's World Water Development Report.

"We need new solutions in managing water resources so as to meet emerging challenges to water security caused by population growth and climate change," said Audrey Azoulay, director-general of the U.N. Educational, Scientific and Cultural Organization (UNESCO), in a statement. "If we do nothing, some five billion people will be living in areas with poor access to water by 2050."

Keep reading... Show less

28 Activists Arrested at Kinder Morgan Pipeline Construction Site

Despite a court-ordered injunction barring anyone from coming within 5 meters (approximately 16.4 feet) of two of its BC construction sites, opponents of the Kinder Morgan Trans Mountain pipeline expansion sent a clear message Saturday that they would not back down.

Twenty-eight demonstrators were arrested March 17 after blocking the front gate to Kinder Morgan's tank farm in Burnaby, BC for four hours, according to a press release put out by Protect the Inlet, the group leading the protest.

Keep reading... Show less

Three Outlandish Ideas to Cool the Planet

By Jeremy Deaton

Climate change is a big, ugly, unwieldy problem, and it's getting worse by the day. Emissions are rising. Ice is melting, and virtually no one is taking the carbon crisis as seriously as the issue demands. Countries need to radically overhaul their energy systems in just a few short decades, replacing coal, oil and gas with clean energy. Even if countries overcome the political obstacles necessary to meet that aim, they can expect heat waves, drought and storms unseen in the history of human civilization and enough flooding to submerge Miami Beach.

Keep reading... Show less

Those Little Produce Stickers? They’re a Big Waste Problem

By Dan Nosowitz

Those little produce stickers are ubiquitous fruits and vegetables everywhere. But, as CBC notes, they're actually a significant problem despite their small size.

Keep reading... Show less

Despite Trump’s Bluster, U.S. Officials and Scientists Maintain Climate Work with International Partners

Trump has loudly declared his intention to withdraw the U.S. from the Paris agreement, but, behind the tweets and the headlines, U.S. officials and scientists have carried on working with international partners to fight climate change, Reuters reported Wednesday.

Keep reading... Show less
Gina Loudon and administrator of the U.S. Environmental Protection Agency Scott Pruitt speaking at the 2017 Conservative Political Action Conference (CPAC) in National Harbor, Maryland. Gage Skidmore

EPA Sued Over Failure to Release Correspondence With Heartland Institute

The U.S. Environmental Protection Agency (EPA) is being sued for its "unlawful and unreasonable delay" in responding to requests for information about the agency's communications with the Heartland Institute, according to a complaint by the Southern Environmental Law Center (SELC) and the Environmental Defense Fund (EDF).

The Heartland Institute is an Illinois-based think tank that rejects the science of man-made climate change and has received funding from the Koch brothers and the fossil fuel industry.

Keep reading... Show less
Trump Watch
Aerial photo of Duke Energy Coal Ash Spill. Wake Forest University Center for Energy, Environment & Sustainability

Trump Administration Seeks to Gut Water Pollution Safeguards, Putting Communities at Risk

By Mary Anne Hitt

A Hollywood scriptwriter couldn't make this up. One day after new data revealed widespread toxic water contamination near coal ash disposal sites, U.S. Environmental Protection Agency (EPA) head Scott Pruitt announced a proposal to repeal the very 2015 EPA safeguards that had required this data to be tracked and released in the first place. Clean water is a basic human right that should never be treated as collateral damage on a corporate balance sheet, but that is exactly what is happening.

Keep reading... Show less
Impossible Foods

Impossible Burger Executive Grilled at Sustainable Foods Summit

An executive from a company selling a genetically engineered meat alternative faced tough questions at the Sustainable Foods Summit held in San Francisco at the end of January.

Keep reading... Show less


The best of EcoWatch, right in your inbox. Sign up for our email newsletter!