Celebrating the cities that run on 100% renewable energy

The other day, reading about how solar energy has been bailing out Texas’ stand-alone electricity grid in scorching temperatures, I was struck by this image.

“Texas could be the Saudi Arabia of renewable energy,” said Andrew Dessler, director of the Texas Center for Climate Studies at Texas A&M. “We got rich selling hydrocarbons, but politicians in Texas don’t want to get rich selling electrons.” 

It is a paradigm-changing image, isn’t it? The Saudi Arabia of renewable energy. As opposed to the Saudi Arabia of oil and gas, which is helping to rapidly heat up our world and – given Russia’s attack on Ukraine – heating up inflation, too.

Then I read a story about how Burlington, Vermont, a city of 42,000, has run on 100% renewable energy since 2014. It was the first US city to do that, and it took only 10 years to achieve. And it has quite amazingly low electrical bills.

So I wondered – are there other US cities that are also running totally on renewable energy. And it turns out, yes, there are – at least three other US cities and one US island

Tiny Rock Port, Missouri, runs entirely on wind power. Alaska’s Kodiak Island, with a population of 15,000, has been almost entirely powered by wind and hydro since 2015. Aspen, Colorado (population: 7,539), and Greensburg, Kansas (55,716) also are 100% powered by renewables.

Farming the Wind in Rock Port, Missouri:

This town of 1,300 is located in a perfect location for wind power. Its wind farm is a private-public partnership, with John Deere joining forces with local entrepreneurs and town leaders to create the Wind Capital Group. Four wind turbines connected to the grid provide about 125% of the town’s energy needs, so they can sell any unused power.

By John Margolies – Wikimedia Commons

“We’re farming the wind, which is something that we have a lot of up here. The payback on a per-acre basis is generally quite good when compared to a lot of other crops, and it’s as simple as getting a cup of coffee and watching the blades spin”, said Jim Crawford, a natural resource engineer at the University of Missouri Extension in Columbia. 

“Anybody who is currently using Rock Port utilities can expect no increase in rates for the next 15 to 20 years,” Crawford said.

They also hope the turbines could become a tourist attraction, given that Rock Port is on the road to Kansas City, giving their local economy another boost.

No more diesel – Kodiak Island, Alaska

Kodiak, the second-largest island in the US, has a population of 15,000. Its Kodiak Electric Association (KEA) had aimed to produce 95% of the community’s electrical needs with renewable energy by 2020. By 2015, they were 99.7% renewably powered by wind and hydro, so they no longer had to import diesel to burn for power. 

While Alaska’s average electricity rate is 50% higher than the national average, electricity prices in Kodiak Island have dropped 2.5% lower than in 2001, so the community is saving money as well as going green.

By James Brooks – Flickr: Kodiak Island bison, Wikimedia Commons

A better credit rating – Burlington, Vermont

The city once relied mostly on coal but currently gets its energy from biomass, hydroelectric, wind and solar. Biomass, hydro and wind each contribute about one-third of Burlington’s energy supply, with solar contributing 1%. Burlington’s easy access to wood, due to the region’s logging industry, and to water means these are its predominant sources of power. But the city has still pushed for solar energy projects, including a large-scale solar array on the airport’s roof.

When Burlington produces a surplus of energy, as it has done annually over the past ten years, that energy is sold on the ISO-New England wholesale market..

Local officials say sourcing 100% renewable energy improved Burlington Electric’s credit rating. “Making the switch to renewables has been recognized by our credit rating agency as a positive economic value for the city, not only because of the power markets and how we use our renewable energy to benefit customers, but also as a hedge against future carbon regulations.”

Between 2009 and 2021, the city didn’t raise its electric rates.The Burlington Electric Department offers incentives for customers to install heat pumps or buy an electric bicycle, mower or vehicle. “If you use our off-peak rate, you pay an equivalent of $0.70 per gallon of gas, use 100% renewable electricity, and keep more money in the local economy,” Springer says.

Church Street marketplace. by Kenneth C. Zirkel – Wikimedia Commons

Hydro since 1885 – Aspen, Colorado

In 1885, Aspen became the first American municipality west of the Mississippi to use hydroelectric power. The City’s first Climate Action Plan in 2007 included a commitment to power its municipal electric utility with 100% renewable sources. It achieved this goal in 2015, through hydro (46%), wind (53%), and landfill gas (1%).

Aspen Electric acquires much of its power through the Municipal Energy Agency of Nebraska (MEAN), a not-for-profit wholesale electricity supply organization created in 1981, which provides cost-based power supply, transmission and related services to 69 participating communities in Colorado, Iowa, Nebraska and Wyoming.

Rebuilding after a tornado – Greensburg, Kansas

In 2007, after a tornado severely damaged or destroyed 90% of its structures, Greensburg decided to rebuild sustainably. In 2008, residents developed a 20-year plan to focus on cost-effective energy efficiency and on operating with 100% renewable energy. 

Greensburg Wind Farm supplies 12.5 MW of renewable energy, complemented by small solar installations, with biogas and biodiesel generators used for emergency backup. 

The town uses only about 1/3 of the power generated and excess power is fed back to the grid and offered as credits for other customers. 

All city-owned buildings were built to the U.S. Green Building Council’s LEED Platinum rating, resulting in 42% energy savings, with 13 community buildings saving a combined total of USD$200,000 per year. Many private buildings also are exceeding 40% in energy savings. 

The city encourages alternative and efficient transportation options, more pedestrian activity and promotes charging stations for electric vehicles.

And then there are a few countries that run on 100% renewable energy.

Water and fire – Iceland

Iceland runs on 100% renewable energy – 75% of the electricity from hydropower, and 25% from geothermal. The country gets 87% of its hot water and heating from geothermal volcanic activity. Iceland chose to go green in the 1970s because it could not sustain oil price fluctuations. It needed a stable and economically feasible domestic energy resource, being isolated on the edge of the Arctic Circle.

The switchover meant the country now has cleaner air due to utilizing renewable sources rather than fossil fuels. Iceland’s plans for the future include banning the sale of new petrol and diesel cars by 2030.  

Green despite hurricanes – Costa Rica

With a population of just under 5 million, 99.62% of the country’s electricity came from renewables in 2019. Costa Rica has an abundance of free-flowing water which generates more than 78% of the country’s electricity, with the rest made up through wind turbines, geothermal energy, and solar.  During tropical storm “Nate” in October 2017, Costa Rica maintained its electricity supply through the use of renewable sources. It was even able to help its neighbouring countries by exporting energy to the Regional Electricity Market (MER).

By Pigment-Ink – Wikimedia Commons

“New data published by the non-profit environmental research body CDP has shown that more than 100 cities across the world are now predominantly powered by renewable energy,” says the World Smart Cities Forum. “This marks a significant shift away from traditional fossil fuels, and the number of cities using renewables has doubled since 2015. This data means that nations are acting fast and we should look forward to more predominantly renewable-powered, if not 100% renewably powered countries, cities and towns in the upcoming years.”