Vermont is now home to the nation’s first 100% renewable-energy city. The largest city in the state, with 42,000 residents, Burlington has grabbed the attention of mayors across the country searching for a model they can emulate in transitioning to clean energy. Leaders in the city have long anticipated the consequences of a changing climate, and through careful planning, bold measures, and a strong commitment, have been able to implement an action plan that works for residents, businesses, and the climate.
“There’s nothing magical about Burlington, we don’t have a gift from nature of ample sun or mighty winds or powerful rivers, so if we can do it, so can others.” Taylor Ricketts, University of Vermont’s Gund Institute for Ecological Economics
While not directly transferable to all cities, the path the community leaders in Burlington pursued illuminates some key tactics that mayors, municipal workers, and sustainability directors can utilize to achieve 100% renewables in their city.
- Identify Opportunities: One key element of their move towards renewables was to first identify which resources were within reach that are both practical and sustainable. For Burlington, the answer is found in a diverse number of renewable sources. From wind to solar and hydroelectric power generation, the city now produces more renewable electricity than it consumes. This surplus has led to price stability for rate payers, and decrease costs for the city. What is important to note is that each city will be different. Sustainability directors must identify which sources of renewable energy are the best options, and focusing on what works best in each individual community.
- Empower Community Actors: The city’s commitment to sustainability includes provisions to collaborate with the nonprofit sector. For instance, by allowing a nonprofit to manage 300 acres of land just outside the city, Burlington has seen a dramatic rise in community and local gardens, which have facilitated the rise of a co-op grocer.
- Communicate Benefits: With climate action comes climate benefits and new opportunities. Transitioning to clean energy creates well paying, stable, local jobs. And green-collar employment continues to grow, outpacing work in coal and fossil fuel extraction industries. Clean energy is also cheaper energy, and rooftop solar, community solar, and renewables can drive down energy bills for businesses and residents. Likewise, investing in community gardens, urban forests, and parks improve the quality of life for residents. Bringing organic, local produce to residents increases healthy living. More green spaces have been shown to increase property values, dampen the urban heat-island effect, and even can contribute to lower levels of stress and anxiety.
Push the Limits
While the city has successfully achieved a major sustainability milestone, leaders there are thirsty for further progress. EV charging stations, expanded public transportation, energy efficiency measures, and bike paths are just some of the new initiatives that the city plans to use to reach its new goal: net-zero energy consumption by the decade’s end.
The success of Burlington’s climate solutions is almost entirely rooted in the bold leadership of the city’s government. So how can mayors and community leaders replicate such success? It starts with showing that there are real, tangible solutions that communities can achieve together. The goals should be made clear, and the benefits of action must be effectively and powerfully communicated.
Find out the best way to achieve climate solutions in your city by joining with the broad network of climate leaders at Path to Positive Communities.
Stuart Wood is a writer at Path to Positive Communities and an adjunct professor of political science and environmental politics. He has a Ph.D. in Political Science from Claremont Graduate University. Email him at email@example.com.