Since January of this year, Costa Rica’s electrical grid has been powered entirely by renewable sources. Above average rainfalls this year in the area have increased hydroelectric power production – and combined with geothermal power production as well as wind, solar and biomass sources, alternative energy sources have provided enough electricity to allow Costa Rica to completely avoid burning fossil fuels.
In 2008, Costa Rica announced plans to become carbon neutral by 2021. On average, 90% of Costa Rica’s energy comes from renewable energy, and ambassador Roman Macaya told MSNBC that Costa Rica “will probably end this year between 96 and 98 percent renewable power generation.”
While Costa Rica is a small country (about 51,000 square kilometers), has a smaller population (about 4.8 million), and has a less energy-intensive economy (primarily tourism and agriculture), this does not mean larger countries can’t work toward eliminating fossil fuel use from their power grids. In an interview with NPR, University of Vermont environmental science professor Taylor Ricketts explained,
“climate change is the biggest problem we face, maybe the biggest problem we’ve ever faced. But there’s no silver bullet to fix it. It’s gonna be a million individual solutions from all over the place.”
The use of fossil fuels is the single greatest contributor to climate change – and cities can start to take the lead by replacing fossil fuels with renewable energy sources. Some US cities have taken notable steps toward fossil fuel-free energy production, including Burlington, Vermont and (perhaps surprisingly) Georgetown, Texas.
Georgetown, Texas is on track to become the first city in Texas to be 100% powered by renewable energy. Georgetown is a politically conservative town of about 50,000 people, and for these residents, the decision to use renewable energy sources has been less about helping the planet and more about saving money – though this doesn’t nullify the achievement. When the city’s Office of Planning and Integration reviewed their options for choosing an energy provider, they found that for them, renewable energy was simply cheaper than fossil fuels. As a result, Georgetown city officials finalized a contract with the multinational solar energy company SunEdison. This deal means that by January 2017, solar and wind power will provide all electricity within the city’s service area.
As Georgetown resident and barber Jon Klopf explained to Grist.org,
“They were just looking out for the cheapest deal. That’s just business” … “I don’t really think we should be relying too much on oil, even though they have to right now. That don’t last forever. Sun will, though. Long as the sun comes up, the wind will blow.”
Burlington, Vermont’s largest city, reportedly became the first city in the U.S. to use 100% renewable energy to power residential energy needs. Burlington is similar in size to Georgetown, at about 42,000 residents – but has a vastly different political climate.
Originally, Burlington’s renewable energy goals stemmed from economic planning as well. Ken Nolan of the Burlington Electric Department explained to NPR, “… in looking at whether to buy renewable power, we really were focused on an economic decision at the time. Our financial analysis at that time indicated to our—actually, to our surprise–that the cheapest long term financial investment for us with the least amount of risk was to move in this direction.” But renewable energy isn’t about just saving money here; it’s also about saving the earth. The Burlington Electric Department’s mission statement says, “BED will continue to be a leader in sustainability by producing power that is as clean and as locally produced as possible. BED will continue to treat the environment with the utmost respect and will continue to influence decisions and public policy that enhance environmental quality, the use of renewable resources, and the sustainability of Burlington.”
To learn more about renewable energy in Burlington, check out this video from PBS News Hour: