Watts: Renewable Energy After Paris

Jun 6, 2017

Last fall Soren Hermanson, a beefy, former-vegetable farmer from a small island off of the coast of Denmark came to Vermont to tell the story of Samso – an island that has gone completely renewable.

Wind turbines and solar fields power the small island – farmers plow around the panels, cows graze under the turbines. All powered by the sun. No atoms are split. No fuel is combusted. No carbon is emitted. Simply the thermal energy of the sun at work, sunlight captured in solar panels or creating wind through the uneven heating of the earth’s surface.

And the economy is booming. Money that was exported to buy energy, now stays at home. Profits are invested back into the community, building new town heating systems – powered also by clean energy. Excess electricity is sold back to the mainland. By 2030 the island will be completely fossil- free.

But what about opposition he was asked?

The opposition is us, Soren explained, with charismatic intensity. We build them and we benefit.

The same story is true in Germany, a world leader in the rapid expansion of renewable energy, much of it wind-power. Many of the energy facilities are owned by community co-operatives; profits are returned to the community.

What President Trump missed in the withdrawal of the US from the Paris Climate Accord, is how good renewable energy is for local economies – particularly hard-hit rural areas. In the US, a number of states, including Vermont are stepping up. Texas, Iowa, Oklahoma, Maine, rural parts of Illinois, get all get major amounts their energy from renewables, mostly wind-power.

Vermont presently employs 17,000 people in clean energy related jobs, and a number of companies that are global leaders. More than three-quarters of our electricity comes from renewable sources. But much of it is imported.

And here’s where we can do better.

We currently spend hundreds of millions of dollars a year to import electricity. And another $2 billion on the fossil fuels for our homes and cars. Imagine if we could invest those same dollars in state to foster development of the cleanest and greenest kilowatts around.

Instead of a declaring moratorium on wind power, I wish the state would focus on changing the complicated financing rules that make community ownership of renewable energy systems difficult. We need to foster all forms of renewable energy, not create barriers.

Then we could travel the world to tell our story.