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Costa Rica utilities burned no fossil fuel in first 75 days of 2015

In late January, NewsHour reported on Burlington, Vermont, the first U.S. city to meet all its energy demands with renewables. Now a whole country can make that claim: From the beginning of the year through at least March 23, Costa Rica’s electrical grid was powered entirely by renewable sources.

Heavy rainfall in the Central American country has caused a spike in hydroelectric production this year. Together with green energy from sources like geothermal, wind, solar and biomass, the power glut means Costa Rica’s energy utilities didn’t need to burn a single gallon of fossil fuel in in the first 75 days of 2015, a trend likely to continue if the rains hold up.

Fossil fuel savings may extend to Costa Ricans’ wallets: The country’s public services regulatory authority has discussed electricity rate cuts of up to 15 percent, according to a Spanish press release from the Costa Rican Electricity Institute, a state-run energy company.

In 2008, Costa Rica announced plans to become carbon neutral by 2021, and it has made significant infrastructure investments toward that aim.

After Paraguay, which relies on a single dam for nearly all its energy needs, Costa Rica gets more of its electricity from renewable sources than any other Latin American country — about 90 percent on average.

But the country’s renewable energy sources aren’t totally reliable. In the past, during droughts, Costa Rica’s hydroelectric plants haven’t always been able to meet demand, requiring thermal power plants, which burn pricey imported fossil fuels, to make up the difference. Climate change also poses a threat to the country’s energy system, since a change in rainfall could disrupt the hydroelectric grid.

Many argue that Costa Rica’s green energy production wouldn’t be easy to replicate elsewhere since it depends on unusually favorable conditions in the country. These include Costa Rica’s heavy rainfall and abundant geothermal features, and its economy, which depends more on tourism and agriculture than energy-intensive industries like heavy manufacturing.

Still, Costa Rican Embassador Roman Macaya told MSNBC on Monday that his country “will probably end this year between 96 and 98 percent renewable power generation,” a feat that might leave other countries green with envy.

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