BURLINGTON, VERMONT: A CITY ON 100%RENEWABLES, LESSONS FOR OTHER MAJOR CITIES
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By Cori Marshall
Water Today has looked at the potential for renewable energy in remote communities and the barriers that exist to transition. What about major cities, what types of challenges would they face making the change to all renewable energy? Would it be more cost-effective and, in the end, would customers have lighter monthly bills?
In 2014 Burlington, Vermont, became the first city in the United States to have 100% of its electricity coming from renewable sources. The journey that this city of 42 thousand made showed that the transition might not be that challenging. To meet its electricity needs, Burlington uses a combination of green energy solutions biomass, hydroelectricity, wind, and solar.
The journey toward cleaner sources of energy began when Burlington replaced a coal plant with the 50-megawatt McNeil woodGenerating Station 40 years ago. Half of what is produced at this woodchip electricity plant is used by Burlington.
The City's next step came in 1990 with the creation of an "energy efficient utility" explained Neale Lunderville, City of Burlington's General Manager. Because of this focus on being energy efficient Burlingtonians "use less energy than in 1990," Lunderville said. This year is the "tenth year without raising (electricity) rates."
In fact, Lunderville highlighted that "electricity rates in Burlington are less than in 1990 when adjusted for inflation."
Burlington's decision to move toward 100% renewable power came in 2009. Lunderville told WaterToday that the transition "happened gradually, over 15 years." The shift was relatively painless, and "no special resources, except for the purchase of a hydroelectric dam."
The city put the question to Burlingtonians before the purchase, voters supported the $12 million bond with 80% voting in favour. It was this purchase of the 7.4-megawatt Winooski One Hydro Plant that allowed the city to be completely independent of the New England grid "which is still largely fired by coal," Lunderville said.
The portfolio of energy sources and focus on efficiency has residents reaping the financial rewards. Lunderville explained that by "using less power overall bills are shrinking." He underlined that "in 2016 rates were 2.5% lower than the state average." The average Burlingtonian's electricity bill is "$$768 a year compared to $1,104 in the rest of Vermont," Lunderville said.
When asked if this was the end of the City's green initiatives Lunderville replied "this is not even close to the final step. Burlington is looking to eliminate all fossil fuels in the next 15 years." They will focus on home heating with oil and ground transportation. To help achieve this, "electric rates will be cut in half for EVs," amongst other measures.
Burlington's approach differs from that of the current American federal administration, and Lunderville was asked if that has created any challenges for the city moving forward? "The federal administration made an unfortunate decision to pull back from the global effort on climate change," Lunderville said, "though businesses, utilities, and customers are moving toward sustainability."
Burlington's goals are "not affected by the federal decision," Lunderville said, and "we're not backing away from sustainability."
This city of 42 thousand, on the eastern shore of Lake Champlain, has been able to convert 100% of its electric grid to renewables. It utilizes a cocktail of sources to meet its needs. Burlington is an example, the transition is not difficult, the decision just has to be made.