Burlington, Vermont, already considered to be one of the United States’s most environmentally progressive cities, has added another line to its impressive green resume. Just recently, the city finalized its transition to relying 100% on renewable resources for its energy.
Burlington is Vermont’s large city, though that in itself is no big feat – the city has a population of just 42,000. Then again, very few communities of even this size have managed to disassociate themselves from fossil fuels. In order to adequately tackle climate change, cities – big and small – need to prioritize finding and utilizing alternative energy solutions.
Burlington had expressed a desire to commit to 100% renewable energy for more than a decade, but it became a real possibility when analysts discovered that it was not only a smart environmental choice, but financially viable, too. In the long run, both the city and residents will not be paying more for clean energy than they were when buying fossil fuels.
The 100% mark was made possible when the Burlington Electric Department bought hydroelectric technology stationed on the Winooski River near Burlington’s border. The power created by water supplements the city’s existing wind technologies, as well as a biomass facility that harvests energy from leftover woodchips supplied by the region’s logging industry.
Vermont on the whole, however, intends to follow Burlington’s lead in adopting more renewable energy. The state has declared a goal of having renewable resources provide 90% of the energy before the year 2050. Residents are so supportive of this effort that utility companies are going out of their way to accommodate alternative energy to their customers.
In truth, Burlington does rely on some fossil fuels for energy when the renewable resources aren’t readily available – sometimes the wind is too weak to generate much power, for example. To cover these times, they will purchase energy created with non-renewable resources to provide the city with electricity. When the wind is strong, however, Burlington will trade the excess energy to other towns to make up for its deficits. Overall, Burlington energy authorities explain, the city sells more of its own (clean) energy than it buys from other communities.
For this reason, some environmentalists say that Burlington’s “100%” rate is a bit of stretch and deserves an asterisk next to it. Sill, an asterisk is better than the effort that most American cities have put in thus far. By turning its attention to cultivating energy from water, wind and biomass, Burlington is showing the rest of the country that renewable energy is not only possible, it’s affordable. As the rest of Vermont begins to follow suit, hopefully other states will catch on as well.