What do these towns in Kansas, Vermont and Colorado have in common?
by Allen Best
Hundreds and perhaps thousands of towns and cities have set goals for 100 percent renewable energy, but only a handful have succeeded.
First was Greensburg, Kan., which was nearly leveled by a tornado in 2007. In rebuilding, a wind farm was erected by a public-private partnership. That wind, supplemented by solar and biogas, provides the electricity to power every home, business, and public building in and around Greensburg. It has a population of about 800.
Burlington, Vt., was next. Last September, the Burlington Electric Department purchased a 7.4-megawatt hydroelectric project on the Winooski River, at the edge of the 42,000-resident city.
In doing that, reported the Boston Globe, Burlington joined the Washington Electric Co-operative, which has about 11,000 customers in Vermont. It achieved 100 percent early in 2013.
The Massachusetts seacoast town of Scituate has also achieved 100 percent renewables, but only for municipal and school operations, not residential and business. The town lies 20 miles south of Boston. It has a population of 19,000 swelling to 28,000 during summer. It also has expensive electricity. Most of the power comes from nuclear plants, followed by plants that burn oil and then natural gas.
After an investigation launched in 2005, Scituate in 2013 ended up with a solar farm atop a capped 17-acre landfill and an 80-meter-high wind turbine near the sewage treatment plant. The solar plant generates 3.5 million kilowatt hours a year and the wind turbine 1.75 megawatts.
National Grid, the investor-owned utility that serves Scituate, pays the municipality 15 cents a kilowatt-hour.
That’s a good deal for the municipality, says Albert Bangert, a retired Proctor and Gambles executive, who served as public works director for over five years. “We are getting $400,000 to $450,000 per year advantage for the taxpayer, and if you’re an elected official, that’s what drives you. If it didn’t save money, it wouldn’t have happened, frankly,” adds Bangert, who now works on special projects for the city government.
Why is National Grid willing to pay Scituate market rate for its renewable energy while also providing backup power to Scituate when the wind isn’t blowing and the sun isn’t shining? It probably has to do with the Massachusett’s 22 percent renewable portfolio standard .
Several selectmen in Scituate are personally interested in renewable energy, but the drive for renewables wasn’t driven by an effort to brand the town, says Bangert.
In California, a number of cities and counties served by investor-owned utilities have been talking about setting high goals for renewables by using an economic model called community choice aggregation. Wikipedia explains that the system, also authorized in several other states, allows cities and counties to aggregate the buying power of individual customers within a defined jurisdiction in order to secure alternative energy supply contracts on a community-wide basis, but allowing consumers not wishing to participate to opt out.
Diane Moss, of the 100 Percent Renewables Policy Institute, reports that Lancaster, a city located north of Los Angeles, “will get to 100 percent fairly soon,” and a number of other cities in Southern California have passed resolutions embracing the goal of moving ot 100 percent renewables. And San Francisco, after a stutter, now appears to be moving toward 100 percent renewables adn bypassing the investor-owned utility.