Tiny Tuesday: Renewable City

In 2014, Burlington, Vermont became the first American city to source 100% of its electricity from renewable sources. The power comes from a wood chip plant inside city limits, a hydroelectric plant on the Winooski River, a PV solar array at Burlington International Airport, and a handful of wind turbines on nearby Georgia Mountain. Now Mayor Miro Weinberger has his sights on a loftier goal: net zero.

Recall that a net-zero building is one that produces more energy than it uses. If a house has enough solar panels to power the lights but it still burns gas for heating and cooking, then it’s not net-zero. Likewise, for a city to be net-zero, it needs to heat all its homes using renewable sources, or export enough heat to match the amount of nonrenewable fuel coming in. Transportation is part of the mix, too: renewables must power all vehicles registered in the city. Not every Burlingtonian will drive an electric car, so I think the city will need to balance the gasoline purchases with electric charging stations used by visitors.

This Politico article traces Burlington’s 40-year journey to becoming an all-renewable city. Closely intertwined with that story is the revival of the Intervale as a fertile farmland within city limits – 350 acres growing produce with a rent system to incubate budding farmers. The article demonstrates that like local food, renewable energy isn’t necessarily more expensive than the conventional alternative. Burlington Electric has used bonds and renewable energy credits to offset costs (its loan payments on the Winooski River plant equal the defrayed cost of buying electricity elsewhere) and keep its rates constant for eight years and counting.

Thanks to Laura Schutz.

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