9 décembre 2016

Burlington (Vermont) : une inspiration pour nos maires!

Puisque nos municipalités auront un peu plus d’autonomie, nos maires régionaux pourraient tirer avantage à étudier l’histoire de Burlington : première ville américaine à fonctionner entièrement aux énergies renouvelables.

Small is beautiful and a lot more manageable!

Ce coup de maître a nécessité une bonne dose de persévérance, mais la récompense dépasse tellement les efforts.

Comme je l’ai dit plusieurs fois, je déménagerais avec grand plaisir au Vermont si ce n’était pas un État américain...

Je ne comprends pas pourquoi l’autonomie énergétique et agroalimentaire (bio), que la ville de Burlington n’a pas hésité à instaurer, a si mauvaise presse alors qu’on clame les vertus d’un libre-échange international débridé et démesuré qui rapporte davantage aux grandes corporations qu’aux petits et moyens producteurs. Si nos gouvernements subventionnaient généreusement nos agriculteurs bios, les prix baisseraient et ça ferait rouler l’économie. Par ailleurs, n’oublions pas que la malbouffe McDo/Monsanto coûte très cher en soins de santé...

L’article dont il est question retrace aussi le parcours de Bernie Sanders qui, dans les années 1970, scandait le même message qu’en 2016 durant la campagne présidentielle. Peut-être que les Américains réaliseront un jour, mais trop tard, qu’ils ont commis une grave erreur en envoyant Trump et sa bande d’accros aux énergies fossiles à la Maison-Blanche.

Suivent quelques extraits. Article intégral :

America’s First All-Renewable-Energy City
By Colin Woodard
Posted on December 8, 2016

Burlington’s decades-long commitment to sustainability has paid off with cheap electricity – and some pretty great homegrown food…

To understand what makes Burlington unlike almost any other city in America when it comes to the power it consumes, it helps to look inside the train that rolls into town every day. The 24 freight cars that pull up to the city’s power plant aren’t packed with Appalachian coal or Canadian fuel oil but wood. Each day 1,800 tons of pine and timber slash, sustainably harvested within a 60-mile radius and ground into wood chips, is fed into the roaring furnaces of the McNeil Generating Station, pumping out nearly half of the city’s electricity needs. 
   Much of the rest of what Burlington’s 42,000 citizens need to keep the lights on comes from a combination of hydroelectric power drawn from a plant it built a half mile up Vermont’s Winooski River, four wind turbines on nearby Georgia Mountain and a massive array of solar panels at the airport. Together these sources helped secure Burlington the distinction of being the country’s first city that draws 100 percent of its power from renewable sources. The net energy costs are cheap enough that the city has not had to raise electric rates for its customers in eight years. And Burlington is not done in its quest for energy conservation. Add in the city’s plan for an expansive bike path, a growing network of electric vehicle charging stations and an ambitious plan to pipe the McNeil station’s waste heat to warm downtown buildings and City Hall’s goal to be a net zero consumer of energy within 10 years starts looking achievable. 
   The environmental sustainability revolution has spread to other sectors of civic life. Outside the gates, farmers, community gardeners and food-minded social workers tend fields and plots spread out over 300 acres of once-neglected floodplain just two miles from the city’s center. Together the agricultural enterprises in the valley – working land controlled by a non-profit that partners with the city – grow $1.3 million in food each year, much of it sold at a massive, member-owned cooperative supermarket, its own origins traced back to City Hall.

Photos: Politico Magazine

How did this former logging port on the shore of Lake Champlain transform itself over the past 40 years from a torpid manufacturing town in the far corner of a backwater state to a global trendsetter in sustainable development and green power? The answer carries particular resonance at a time when the United States’ commitment to environmental issues and addressing climate change is suddenly less certain than at any time in a decade. Cities like Burlington, the largest city in a state whose tourism and agriculture dependent economy is vulnerable to climate change, have had to craft their own solutions to address global warming and to insulate themselves from the vagaries of global energy markets. In Burlington, however, these solutions were not spearheaded by civic or corporate leaders, as is now often the case when cities tackle urban issues. Instead, Burlington is achieving its energy independence almost entirely through initiatives developed by its municipal government – a government that has been decidedly left-leaning for decades. In fact, one of the people most responsible for setting in motion the chain of policies and programs that now distinguish Burlington was a ground-breaking social democratic mayor with unruly hair, a thick Brooklyn accent and a message that would many years later carry him deep into the 2016 presidential campaign. 
   “There’s nothing magical about Burlington,” says Taylor Ricketts of the University of Vermont’s Gund Institute for Ecological Economics. “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.”
   [In 1983] self-sufficiency and environmental protection were key goals, and the Sanders administration came into office with a head start. Under Paquette, the city-owned Burlington Electric Department decided to replace its aging coal-fired power plant on the lakefront with a wood-fired one in the Intervale, a neglected stretch of Winooski River floodplain where the last dairy farmer was surrounded by junkyards. Completed during Sanders’ first term, the McNeil biomass plant could use local wood to generate nearly all of the city’s needs (though half the power – then and now – is owned by the plant’s minority stakeholders and winds up in other towns.) The Burlington Environmental Alliance opposed it with pen-and-ink posters of a clear-cut landscape under the words “The Wood Chip Plant is Coming.” But the plant opened with a staff of full-time foresters charged with developing green rules and protocols for their suppliers. “To this day there are no sustainable harvesting standards in the State of Vermont except for ours,” says Burlington Electric’s chief forester Betsy Lesnikoski, who has been monitoring harvests at the plant for 33 years. “We invented the wheel.”
   “A lot of communities are ‘whale hunters,’ they think the answer is to business recruitment is to go after the big fish,” [Bruce] Seifer says. “Instead we created a loan fund and helped local businesses and non-profits get started, places that would reinvest their time and effort locally, hire from within, serve on boards, and when times are tough not move out of state because they live here.” Ironically, much of the money supporting many of these 1980s initiatives came via federal grants awarded under Ronald Reagan’s administration.
   Sanders stepped down in 1989 to run for Congress, and voters replaced him with the development office’s head, Peter Clavelle. A native and former city manager of the neighboring mill-town of Winooski, Clavelle’s administration would push the sustainability drive to a new level. In his first term the city instituted mandatory recycling, fought off big box stores at a proposed mall, and got an $11.2-million bond passed to pay for insulation and other energy efficiency improvements in homes, businesses and public buildings. This initiative prevented the need to buy power from Hydro Quebec, whose dams were controversial because they flooded tribal lands in Quebec’s far north, all with public support. “The beautiful thing is that we do as a general rule see the common good as a fundamental component of life here,” observes Jennifer Green, the city’s sustainability coordinator. “We all have to give a little for everybody to get some.”
   In 2014, Burlington officially bought Winooski One hydroelectric plant. […] Tidy it is, and also financially effective. Built by private developers on Burlington-owned land in neighboring Winooski, the city exercised a onetime option to buy the facility in 2014 via a $12-million voter-approved bond. The plant was, in a sense, free. The bond payments were about the same as the cost of the power the Burlington Electric Department would otherwise have had to purchase elsewhere. The cost of the power was now insulated from the fluctuations in oil and gas markets, prompting the Moody’s credit agency to raise the utility’s credit rating. And it made the city the first in the nation to obtain all of its power from renewable sources, a distinction that went almost unnoticed at the time, relegated to the third paragraph of the Burlington Free Press’s story on the city finalizing the dam’s purchase. “This was the product of a long term vision and a sequence of mayors,” says Ricketts at the Gund Institute. “It kind of snuck up on us.”
   Indeed, because Burlington owns its own utility with its own citywide grid, the city could theoretically close its three connections with the wider world and generate all of its power combining McNeil, Winooski One, wind turbines and solar panels. This led a visiting writer for Orion magazine to declare this was where she would move to wait out a zombie apocalypse. This would only be an apocalyptic measure, as half of McNeil’s power is actually owned by the plant’s minority owners. Burlington makes up for this by buying hydro power from further afield, but it is still able to operate a renewable grid without asking rate payers to pay extra for it. “The conventional wisdom is that you have to pay more for renewables, but it’s not true,” says Burlington Electric’s general manager, Neale Lunderville. “We haven’t raised rates in eight years.”

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