How Did Burlington Get to 100 Percent Renewable Energy?

February 1, 2015

Ok, so let’s start some competition and light a fire under some other communities and states.
One approach in Red State areas might be –

‘Hey, see those skinny hippies up in Vermont? –
They’re kicking your ass in energy freedom!”

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28 Responses to “How Did Burlington Get to 100 Percent Renewable Energy?”

  1. Gingerbaker Says:

    We got to 100% renewable energy by relabeling the burning of wood chips as ‘renewable’ energy. Too bad ‘renewable’ is not defined as “carbon-free”.

    And the other part was dumb luck. We happen to get a lot of electricity from long-term commitments to Hydro-Quebec. Which means we are lucky enough to be close enough to a large hydroelectric power plant to look good on this silly list.

    Burlington is a good place to live, but we have not done anything truly outstanding to lower our carbon footprint. Nothing. At. All.

    • dumboldguy Says:

      It IS nice that Burlington is making some progress, even though GB is right when he says “nothing TRULY outstanding” (and that it’s a great place to live).

      Peter, you’re being a cheerleader here, and that’s good, but saying
      ‘”Hey, see those skinny hippies up in Vermont? – They’re kicking your ass in energy freedom!” to Red-Staters is simply not going to work. I live in a state that is Red in most ways—turning purple only because of the influx of what the natives call “yankee carpetbaggers” in the urban areas.

      (Anecdote time: Shortly after moving to VA in 1969, I walked into the first meeting of a group that I had been hired to manage and heard from someone in the back (the one I replaced) “The occupation army has arrived”. My response was: “Yes, and we have burned our carpetbags and are not leaving. My door is open to anyone who wants to talk about that in private. The first item on today’s agenda is….” I moved on from that job in two years and the one who made that remark was transferred more than once and ultimately fired for his inability to “adapt to the changing environment”).

      Your well-intended challenge will only remind the Red Staters of how those “skinny Yankee invaders” kicked their ass during The War of Northern Aggression and set them to waving their Confederate Battle Flags. They also tend to save the term “hippie” for Californians, who they don’t want to “Californicate” their states—-ever see the bumper stickers?. So don’t expect them to compete with CA either.

      Some other thoughts:

      1) Burlington has ~43,000 residents—-fewer than 1 in 8,000 Americans live there
      2) 1/4 of the population works at the U of VT or the U of VT Medical center. The city would pretty much dry up and blow away but for that.
      3) In view of the above, Burlington is an atypical flyspeck
      4) Biomass provides 35% of their “renewable” energy, and as GB points out, is hardly carbon free. It is the least desirable and least effective of all the “renewables”.

    • lesliegraham1 Says:

      “by relabeling the burning of wood chips as ‘renewable’ energy.”

      Wood is carbon nuetral.
      So long as you have a complete cycle from planting, through growing, to harvesting and burning and then replanting again, then the volume of carbon released when you burn the wood is exactly equal to the volume of carbon the tree absorbed during the growing process.
      Not a molecule more – not a molecule less.
      It’s a complete carbon cycle.

      I understand there is some argument concerning the roots that are left in the ground and some claim this makes it a net carbon sink but in general it’s nuetral.

      Not that I don’t have reservations about using scarce fertile land for growing biofuels but that’s a seperate argument to the carbon issue.


      • If the roots decompose without oxygen then maybe.

        If some of the wood is turned into charcoal (aka biochar) then the sequesters some of the carbon.

        • lesliegraham1 Says:

          Yeah, sure – details details.
          Broadly speaking, growing timber for fuel in a continuous cycle is as near carbon neutral as makes no practical difference.

          • dumboldguy Says:

            How does it go? “the devil is in the details”?

            Broadly speaking, growing timber for fuel in a continuous cycle makes very little “practical difference” in the carbon cycle, and what goes on in the oceans is far more important—-that’s where most of the carbon was sequestered as the Earth evolved the equilibrium that we have so badly disrupted by burning fossil fuels over the past few hundred years.

            Look at the numbers and that will be obvious—-a good diagram and chart of carbon totals is here:

            http://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/Carbon_cycle

          • pendantry Says:

            The devil is, indeed, in the details. For instance, clearcutting old forest to replant with wood destined for furnaces (that can also burn trash) can only be considered ‘carbon neutral’ by spin doctors.

        • j4zonian Says:

          Carbon neutral isn’t good enough any more. Everything we can possibly turn into a carbon sink we have to. Every single tree we can leave in the ground to keep growing we need to; it will save us from having to plant 5 more to make up for it.

          • dumboldguy Says:

            For once I agree with everything you said in a comment. (We agree on much, actually).

            People conveniently forget that it takes a long time for the replanted trees to put things back in a “carbon neutral” state—- even decades. The only “biomass” that makes even the slightest sense for obtaining energy through cycling non-fossil carbon is the fast-growing grasses.

            Natural laws “made” trees and determined where they should grow and what part they should play in the biosphere. It is yet another sign of man’s hubris that we should interfere with that. Yes, leave them in the ground where they belong.

            And wood chips and sawdust are only being used for fuel because someone saw the chance to make a buck off the waste products of sawmills and other wood-based industries. The really proper and “natural” thing to do would be to return that material to the environment directly as soil amendment’/enrichment or even as biochar.

            Shipping it to Europe only benefits the pockets of the “marketers”, not the biosphere.

      • Gingerbaker Says:

        What puts more CO2 into the atmosphere: Burning wood for power or harvesting sunlight? Every time you cut down a tree you have removed a huge canopy of CO2 fixers (the leaves) and then you have to wait decades for a new tree to grow to the same size.

        Burning trees to make electricity can not possibly be as good as idea as harvesting sun or wind or tide.

    • andrewfez Says:

      Seems like I looked at this or something similar last year. If it’s what I’m thinking about, then they’re selling off clean energy they can’t use at times to a dirty grid, and then importing dirty energy when needed, at times the clean energy isn’t up to the task. The net result is 100% clean, but it requires a dirty grid to ‘store’ their clean energy, accounting-wise.

    • andrewfez Says:

      …and last time i was in WV, I got the drill out and helped my dad tap a few maple trees and hang some buckets. Syrup season is upon us…

      • dumboldguy Says:

        And what “environmentally friendly” fuel do you use to boil down the sap? Does anyone use solar generated electricity for that?

        (And you’re lucky there are no sugar maples in China or you and your dad would be out of business).

        • andrewfez Says:

          It’s more of just a hobby, though I’m sure we could give China a run for their money in advertizing, ‘20% less lead and mercury than Chinese syrup’.

          I have no idea how much electricity is wasted in the venture, though the boiling does take place in the basement and thus the heat from the electric burner coil is also used to partly keep the room warm. We don’t tap enough trees to boil it down old school style, with a wood fire. Incidentally, the more volatile the temperature is throughout the week, the more sap the trees produce, as the deal relies on modulating between freezing and non freezing conditions.

          Dad also keeps a wood burning stove attached to his chimney down there. He chops up dead trees that have fallen in the woods out back, and carries bits of them back to the house on foot. He’s in his mid-70’s, but still gets out there with a sledge hammer that’s been shaped into a wedge on one side, and goes to work on them. A bit more carbon friendly than biomass harvesting…

          And they get decent sunlight through some of the southern windows upstairs, so in the day time, the upstairs HVAC doesn’t have to run; but they don’t have any material with good heat capacity to store the sunlight, so at night the HVAC takes care of the upstairs, and the stove takes care of the downstairs.


    • Burning wood chips is fossil fuel free. Burning wood does not increase the level of carbon dioxide in the air – because when the trees grow, they pull carbon out of the air. Burning wood is carbon neutral.

      • dumboldguy Says:

        Uh, neil and leslie?

        Sorry to disagree, but burning wood to generate electricity or to produce heat for heating homes or industrial processes is by NO means “carbon neutral” or “fossil fuel free”.

        Yes the carbon cycle as it pertains to “wood” is pretty much “complete” and pretty much results in “not a molecule more – not a molecule less”, and it is powered by the sun, whose energy is locked up in the wood as it grows and released upon combustion. We could write simplified “equations” that take care of 99+% of the chemistry within that “wood” cycle:

        Wood (carbon + Hydrogen) + oxygen —-> heat + carbon dioxide +water

        Water + carbon dioxide + sun’s energy —-> Wood and oxygen

        Sweet, and equal and reversible—-so far! However, you’ve both forgotten the energy needed by the machines used in the processes of “planting, growing, harvesting, and burning” that wood (as well as hauling away the ashes), and most of THAT energy is going to come from fossil fuels because that’s where most of our energy comes from.

        In addition to the fuel needed to power the machines that plant, grow, cut down, and convert the trees into chips or pellets, it takes energy to transport the “wood” to where it will be burned (as in Europe for some of it), and you also have to factor in the energy needed to make the machines that do all those things.

        You could improve the math if you used a chipper powered by steam generated by burning wood chips, and if the chips or pellets were produced locally that would cut transportation energy loss.

        My brother in the north woods of Wisconsin has a nice pellet stove that heats much of his house. He also has a basement half full of pretty heavy-duty paper bags of pellets that were produced from the waste sawdust at nearby saw mills and transported to his house on a flatbed 18-wheeler—-they totally filled his 2 car+ garage until he and his son hand carried them downstairs. Does he produce less carbon emissions than if he burned fossil fuels? For sure. Is it carbon neutral? Not by a long shot, and that’s the problem with all biomass.

        The way to use the sun’s energy most efficiently is to cut out the carbon middleman and go directly to solar or wind. You still need to expend some energy to male the PV’s and windmills, but if they last long enough, the math is far better than with biomass.

  2. toby52 Says:

    I am Irish but back in the 1980s when I worked for Digital Equipment Corporation I visited Burlington a few times. It has an IBM plant as well – not sure if they are still there, I hope they are, or at least or doing business. The DEC facility would now be HP.

    I absolutely loved the place, and (despite the cold winters) is one spot in the US I would definitely move to.

    Is is that “Blue” a state? One day I arrived at the plant there to find it 1/3 empty. “First day of the hunting season” I was told. Green Mountain men and women like their guns.

    Nice to see this type of progress there – while it might be accidental, the tradition might catch hold, and they will never go back to coal or gas.

    • Gingerbaker Says:

      Bluer than blue. Bernie Sanders was our mayor for years.

      BTW, you can be a liberal and be a hunter – plenty of us are. And you can be a liberal and enjoy living in Vermont where you do not need a permit for concealed carry. We don’t have much gun crime.

      It drives me absolutely crazy that the Democratic party has decided it is in the national interest for them to lose election after election because they refuse to take a stand to protect a Constitutional freedom. Every time a liberal starts writing about gun control, despite the two very clear Supreme Court decisions on the matter(!), it gives Karl Rove another orgasm. Stupidity.

      • mbrysonb Says:

        I have to say I disagree. The recent Court decisions (like a few others) trample the previous jurisprudence. The right had been found to be linked to the initial clause, which means it’s not an individual right (as I understand it, it was grounded in the states’ right to maintain a citizens’ militia). And US problems with guns and gun violence is a cruel and painful outlier in the wider world (it’s also contributed to a similar craziness here in Canada, with the self-styled ‘Conservatives’ fighting registration requirements for long guns). The statistics tell a very simple story: a gun in the house makes everyone less safe– and that goes double for hand guns.

        • dumboldguy Says:

          “….a gun in the house makes everyone less safe…..? Hmmmmmm.

          WashPost reports today that a “toddler” in Albuquerque NM shot both his father (in the ass) and 8+ months pregnant mother (in the shoulder) with a single bullet. (He managed to avoid hitting his 2-year-old sister, who was also in the room). He was reaching into his mother’s purse for an IPod but grabbed and fired the loaded fun he found there instead. Hmmmmmm,

          Presumably, the mother was carrying the gun to keep her safe from crazed armadillos or those out-of-control cops—-and it worked! Don’t you have crazed moose or caribou or chipmunks in Canada that you need protection from? (We know in the USA that your Mounties can do no wrong).

          • dumboldguy Says:

            PS And while we’re talking about Burlington, guns, “blueness” and Canada, we should mention that northern Vermont was quite “red” back in the early years of the country.

            The folks in northern VT were quite strongly against the War of 1812—-being so far “up there”, they had much stronger economic ties with Canada than with the US and felt the war was “bad for business”. While the folks in Baltimore were dealing with “the rockets red glare” and Washington was being burned (except for the Marine Corps commandant’s house), the northern Vermonters were apparently worried about their “bottom lines”.

          • dumboldguy Says:

            RE: “….those out-of-control cops….” was meant to refer only to a significant minority of the cops in Albuquerque, not all of them or cops in general.

      • toby52 Says:

        Thanks for your comment.

        You have a lovely city and a lovely state.

        Please take care of it.

  3. John Says:

    Reblogged this on jpratt27.

  4. redskylite Says:

    Mighty oaks from little acorns grow.

    That is one interesting video – thanks for displaying.

    The key point is that a 30 megawatt coal powered plant was closed down – The Moran Municipal Generation Station………

    Top priority is to stop burning coal to generate power and Burlington achieved that. Hope more authorities take note and actually do something about it.

    Down under in Australia a trial of Australia’s first grid-integrated ‘network’ battery is underway in Victoria.

    And in Arabia Shams CSP plant has been a pioneer and prototype and a large success.

    All these events are progressing us slowly and we need to encourage it.

    http://reneweconomy.com.au/2015/australias-first-mobile-network-battery-storage-trial-underway-in-victoria-33495

  5. Gingerbaker Says:

    ” The recent Court decisions (like a few others) trample the previous jurisprudence”

    Please explain?


  6. […] How Did Burlinton Get to 100 Percent Renewable Energy? […]


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