Burlington was one of the first US cities to source 100% of its electricity from renewable sources, and one of over 40 globally.
The largest city in the north-eastern state of Vermont, Burlington’s region is known for its stunning forests, maple syrup and mountainous skiing slopes. Though this city of 42,000 citizens is not large by US standards, it has garnered international attention for its world-leading achievements in urban sustainability.
Its biggest success: 100% of the city grid’s electricity comes from renewable sources. Not only is its electricity clean, but it’s affordable too. The city hasn't raised energy rates in eight years.
As the first city in the country to make such a leap, there’s much we can learn from their experience as other cities follow their lead.
Burlington’s Mayor, Miro Weinberger, told CDP: “Burlington, Vermont is proud to have been the first city in the United States to source 100% of our power from renewable generation. Through our diverse mix of biomass, hydro, wind, and solar, we have seen first-hand that renewable energy boosts our local economy and creates a healthier place to work, live, and raise a family. We encourage other cities around the globe to follow our innovative path as we all work toward a more sustainable energy future.”
So, where does Burlington get its 100% renewable electricity?
- Biomass: sustainable local wood is used to power the McNeil Generating Station
- Hydro: hydroelectric power plant on the Winooski River at the city’s edge
- Wind: four large wind turbines on the nearby Georgia Mountain
- Solar: rooftop solar PV arrays on the airport, high school and Burlington Electric Department
This pioneering city kicked off their clean energy journey back in 1978 when they replaced an aging coal plant with the 50-megawatt McNeil Generating Station. Half of the electricity goes to Burlington’s own citywide grid, with the remaining half used elsewhere. The 10-megawatt wind farm and various solar arrays further boost the proportion of renewables in the city’s energy mix.
And then in 2014, city voters approved a $12 million bond for the city’s energy department to purchase the 7.4-megawatt Winooski One Hydro Plant.
And with that, Burlington became the first city in the US to power its electricity grid entirely from renewables.
Building a zero-carbon future
The city is proud of its accomplishment, but it’s not stopping there.
Burlington faces significant risks from climate change. Their two key industries – tourism and agriculture – are vulnerable to extreme weather, and the river that helps generate clean power is at risk of flooding.
You only have to look back to Hurricane Irene in 2011 to see what’s at stake. Heavy rain storms damaged infrastructure, several key businesses and over 60 residential homes – resulting in high costs and loss of economic activity, not to mention severe disruption for citizens.
To make Burlington as resilient as possible, the city is now exploring what it would take to become totally zero-carbon.
They’re investing in charging stations for electric vehicles, planting hundreds of urban trees, and developing plans to pipe steam from the biomass plant to heat downtown homes.
As the world transitions to a low-carbon economy, it’s safe to say Burlington is leading the way.
Updated September 2017.