An increasing number of U.S. cities have resolved to meet all of their electricity needs with renewable energy. In February 2015, Burlington, Vermont, became the first to reach this goal. Georgetown, Texas, is close behind and aims to be fully renewable by January 2017.

Burlington, Vermont

Burlington, the largest city in the state of Vermont, has achieved what many believed to be impossible just a few decades ago. The city became 100 percent renewable last fall after its purchase of the 7.4 megawatt Winooski hydropower plant on the Winooski River.

Burlington provides renewable power to each and every one of its 42,417 citizens through a combination of hydropower, biomass, wind, and solar. Hydropower represents the lion's share, with electricity from the Winooski hydropower plant and other plants in and around the state. Biomass is also a major power contributor to the city. A few years ago, a coal–burning plant was converted into a 25 MW biomass plant that runs on wood from all across Vermont. This plant now accounts for about a third of the city’s electricity needs.

The city’s utility company, Burlington Electric Department (BED), has supplied power to the city since 1905. The utility company notes that the decision to go 100 percent renewable was heavily influenced by their bottom line. According to economic models, it was the cheapest option for the city's future with the least amount of risk. By going renewable, the city claims it will save 20 million dollars over the next two decades. Climate change was a significant factor in their risk analysis. Skiing and maple syrup, two of Vermont’s major claims to fame, are heavily dependent on Vermont’s climate and are particularly vulnerable to a warming atmosphere.

While applauding Burlington for its efforts, critics question how much of a difference this step will really make. Taylor Ricketts, a professor of Environmental Science at the University of Vermont, responds, “It’s gonna be a million individual solutions from all over the place. And this is one of Burlington’s.” The city is hoping to serve as an example for the rest of Vermont, which plans on becoming 90 percent renewable by 2050. It is also hoping to inspire other communities to reduce their energy use, as Burlington has managed to use less energy than it did in 1989.

Georgetown, Texas

Twenty-five miles north of Austin, Georgetown is the first city in Texas to follow in Burlington’s footsteps by committing to be 100 percent renewable by January 2017. Similar to Burlington, the decision to go fossil-fuel free was above all an economic decision: city officials came to the conclusion that it was cheaper for Georgetown to convert to renewable resources for their power generation. Accordingly, Georgetown officials signed a 20-year deal in 2014 with wind developer EDF. A year later, the city signed another deal with solar developer SunEdison for 150 megawatts of solar power beginning in 2016. The combination of wind and solar will provide electricity at a lower rate than the city now pays, and will allow stability in electricity prices.

While primarily an economic decision, the switch to 100 percent wind and solar power generation will also offer a variety of health benefits for the 54,000 citizens of Georgetown. Moreover, renewable energy sources use less water than nonrenewable sources, an enormous benefit for a city that is constantly facing droughts.

And more to come!

Other U.S. cities that are committing to 100 percent renewable energy are Aspen, Colorado; San Diego, California; and San Jose, California. Aspen hopes to go 100 percent renewable by the end of the year by way of solar, wind, hydropower, and geothermal. San Jose expects to become fossil-fuel free by 2022 thanks to renewable technologies like solar, wind, hydropower, geothermal, hydrogen, biomass, electrochemical and fuel cell technologies. As for San Diego, it plans to use solar, wind, and hydropower to become 100 percent renewable by 2035.


Author: Sharmen Hettipola