What Does Renewable Energy Mean To You?

by Amy on July 28, 2015

Burlington, VT is getting a lot of press for its announcement that it is the firBurlingtonst U.S. city to run on 100% Renewable Electricity. I think this is great because Burlington set a sustainability goal for itself, put a plan in place and has been very successful in achieving its goals. That begs the question: What does renewable energy mean to you?

I have been doing an informal survey. Results? Folk on the street and inWind Tower the coffee houses think that renewable energy includes sources that have low environmental impact and constantly renew: Wind, Solar, Geothermal and Hydro. Period.

The EPA has a much broader definition. It says that Renewable Energy includes fuel sources that restore themselves over short periods of time and do not diminish: solar, wind, hydro, organic plant and waste material (eligible biomass), and the earth’s heat (geothermal). It has a stricter definition for GREEN POWER which includes: solar, wind, geothermal, biogas, eligible biomass, and low-impact small hydroelectric sources that produce electricity with an environmental profile superior to conventional power technologies, produce no fossil-fuel based greenhouse gas emissions, and have been built within the last 15 years. (www.epa.gov/greenpower/gpmarket/ accessed 7/28/2015).

Burlington uses the EPA definition. Using their 2013 published data, Burlington’s electricity generation is sourced from the following sources:

  • Wood or Biomass               45.0%
  • Wind, Hydro, Solar            49.4%
  • Oil, Natural Gas, Other     5.6%

So, yes, under the EPA definition, Burlington generates just about 100% of its electricity from renewables. What about that 5.6% you ask? Well, using a creative series of buying and selling SREC’s (Solar Renewable Energy Credits), that 5.6% is translated into renewables…on paper. The sticking point for me? That wood/ biomass component and the carbon and toxic emissions represents.

According to the City, the biomass consists of wood chips from the region’s logging industry and that the emissions are one one-hundredth of the allowable federal level and the only visible emissions are little more than water vapor in cool weather. In 2014, the Massachusetts based Partnership for Policy Integrity conducted the study: Trees, Trash, and Toxics: How Biomass Energy Has Become the New Coal, that found that, “…biomass facilities release as much as 50 percent more carbon dioxide than coal plants per megawatt-hour, and as much as 100 percent more than other air pollutants. The contaminants include carbon monoxide, nitrogen oxides, particulate matter and volatile organic compounds (VOCs)”.  I have not yet been able to find actual emissions data from Burlington’s McNeil BED plant.

I think that Burlington has achieved a remarkable feat in weaning itself from fossil fuels for its electricity generation but I also think that biomass is just a less bad alternative energy source and that it is not a renewable source. It is a waste management strategy that, when burned, can produce electricity.

I thank Burlington, VT for raising the bar and for showing other cities that weaning themselves from fossil fuels is possible…for electricity generation. I hope that the next phase of Burlington’s goal setting focuses on weaning itself from biomass for electricity and weaning itself from the fossil fuels it burns for heat (natural gas). I also hope that other U.S. cities step up to the challenge set by this most progressive city.

Solar Living in the GardenSo what does renewable energy mean to me? Wind, Solar, Geothermal and Hydro – with no carbon emissions and no creation of toxic fumes. I think renewable energy should be defined as power generation that does not harm, uses the energy of the earth and the sky, and is inexhaustibly renewed by nature – not manipulated by man.


{ 1 comment }

Go Get Gardening

June 23, 2015

You might not think of your garden as a lively place but if you look and listen you will find there is a veritable party going on out there. The flowers brighten the view but the pollinators bring the garden to life. At first you might think this little Sphinx Moth is a bee; then […]

Read the full article →

Water Consumption at 14% of National Average!!!

May 30, 2015

According to the EPA’s WaterSense program, the average American family of four uses about 300 gallons of water a day. We have been working hard to reduce water usage at our home. Since moving into the city in August of 2014 our average family of four’s water use has been 43 gallons per day – […]

Read the full article →

Green Travelogue – Firenze – Live Like A Native

May 23, 2015

So now you are back home…alas, so am I…but I plan to visit Florence again soon.  Meanwhile, how do I keep that Tuscan vibe alive? By vowing to try and live like a Florentine at home? How? By walking everywhere; living with the sun and seasons; eating fresh and seasonal foods; hanging my clothes out […]

Read the full article →

Dark Sky and the Streets Department

May 16, 2015

Light is different in the vertical environment of the city.  We chose to live on a numbered street so the house runs east-to-west and has a south facing light shaft.  This brings light down through the house especially in the summer. Even with that, sunrise and sunset are wonderful at the highest levels but the […]

Read the full article →

Philadelphia From A Bike Seat

May 11, 2015

Since moving to the city I have rediscovered the joy of riding my bicycle. It took about two weeks for me to build up the courage to ride with traffic and then another week to build up even more courage to venture out at night with lights blazing! This Friday, May 15th, is Bike to […]

Read the full article →

Green Travelogue: Firenze

April 29, 2015

Florence is a beautiful city filled with art and history. That is what the tourists come for, many of the vendors depend on and much of the general populace takes for granted. Florence is also a very livable city. It is clean. It has successful recycling and food waste composting programs. It has virtually unlimited […]

Read the full article →

Green Travelogue: Frankfurt International Airport

April 21, 2015

I have never been in Frankfurt, Germany….well not really…but I have been in the Frankfurt International Airport which is technically in Frankfurt so maybe I can count it…If the airport is anything like the city, Frankfurt must be clean, green and easy to negotiate…in other words, Frankfurt International Airport is a sustainable place that presents […]

Read the full article →

Pres. Obama Takes Sustainability into the Next Decade

March 26, 2015

By signing Executive Order Planning for Federal Sustainability in the Next Decade, President Obama set new sustainability goals for the federal government that have the potential to make a huge impact on energy and water use in both the federal and private sectors. Signed on March 19, 2015, the Order requires federal agencies to reduce […]

Read the full article →

Green Travelogue: The Palm Beaches

March 2, 2015

Winter has been blowing through the mid-Atlantic with a depressing ferociousness and it brought snow, sleet, and biting cold with it. Using my husband’s trip to a conference as an opportunity for a quick defrost, I embarked on a quick trip to West Palm Beach, Florida. Having flown into Ft. Lauderdale we took the airport […]

Read the full article →