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Lesson Plans

Burlington is first U.S. city to hit 100 percent renewable energy

February 2, 2015

Full Lesson



Vermont’s largest city just became the first in the U.S. to use 100 percent renewable energy, in a move that they say could serve as a model for the rest of the country.

Burlington’s switch to renewable energy will reduce greenhouse gas emissions, save $20 million over the next 20 years and keep energy prices stable, according to Ken Nolan, manager of power resources for Burlington Electric.

The move is only one part of a solution for climate change, according to Taylor Ricketts, professor of Environmental Science at the University of Vermont. “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,” he said.

The city produces most of its energy through hydropower, which harnesses the water pressure from underground turbines to generate electricity. 30 percent comes from a biomass facility, which burns scrap wood and creates energy by converting the heat into steam. Wind turbines produce another 20 percent.

Vermont hopes to spread Burlington’s success to other cities, Ricketts said. “There’s nothing magic about Burlington,” he said.

Burlington is currently using older facilities that don’t work as efficiently as newer ones, but the city must prove that its renewable methods are effective before investing in new facilities, Nolan said.

Warm up questions
  1. When you turn on the lights or charge your phone, where does the electricity come from?
  2. What is renewable energy?
Critical thinking questions
  1. If using 100 percent renewable energy will save money, why don’t all cities do it? What are the barriers to switching to renewable energy?
  2. What is your city doing to address the effects of climate change?
  3. What control do local, state and the federal governments have on energy policy?