At EPA, we’re constantly promoting sustainable development. Renewable energy is at the top of that list because it’s an upfront investment that improves the environment and saves money. It’s a win-win from every angle.
Recently, I was lucky enough to spend time driving through the tunnels of deep red maple trees and brilliant yellow birch leaves that mark New England in autumn. My purpose: see a sampling of the most impressive, innovative clean energy projects in New England. These solar, waste-to-energy and bio-mass projects are cutting down on greenhouse gas emissions, providing jobs and boosting local economies.
I’m proud to represent a region on the forefront of environmental and energy policy. Some of the projects I saw – including in New Bedford and Dennis, Mass. – were located on former landfills, making productive use of otherwise afflicted space. And the clean energy efforts in Burlington, Vt., are a reminder of what we all can achieve.
In the Massachusetts town of Dennis, on Cape Cod, I saw the launch of New England’s largest solar development – 22 megawatts of panels that will provide half the electricity used in Cape Cod and the islands of Martha’s Vineyard and Nantucket. This project includes nine solar arrays, including seven sitting on capped landfills. Altogether, this project will reduce regional greenhouse gas emissions by the equivalent of more than 2,700 passenger vehicles. It’s the latest piece in the state’s ambitious goal to create 1600 MW of solar energy by 2020.
In Dartmouth, Mass., I stood at a city landfill where a new plant will turn food waste into energy. This bio-energy facility will be the first of its kind in the state: an anaerobic digester generating biogas for use at the Crapo Hill Landfill. The digester will initially accept up to 3,000 gallons a day, though it’s eventually expected to take 30,000 gallons. This plant was built in preparation for a state regulation that forbids commercial businesses over a certain size from discarding food waste in landfills.
In nearby New Bedford, I saw a former 12-acre landfill turned into one of the country’s most forward-thinking and innovative clean energy projects: 5,490 solar panels will create 2 MW of power, and will help meet the city’s goals of purchasing power from renewable sources. A $15 million Superfund cleanup allowed the city, working with other public and private groups, to reuse this property to produce clean, sustainable power. New Bedford’s investment installing solar panels around the city is a model for other towns and cities across the country. The trend is clear: What used to be a waste pit has become a source of energy for the city.
The highlight of my trip was a day in Burlington, Vt., once again in the forefront of environmental protection. As of this fall, Burlington became the first city in the country to get 100 percent of its electricity from renewable energy. They set that goal in 2004, and met it as of September with a mix of hydroelectric, wind and a bit of bio-gas. It’s enough to give electricity to all 42,000 residents.
In addition to clear environmental benefits, Burlington will see financial advantages. The town won’t have any rate increases right now, and as the latest hydroelectric station is paid for over the next two decades, the city will see a savings. And Burlington’s energy prices are not tied to fossil fuels.
Burlington is the leader in a state that has set a goal of reaching 90 percent of energy — including heat, electricity and transportation — from renewable resources by 2050. It was wonderful to be in Burlington and see its success in leading the way, proof that it can be done.
These projects all represented the kind of innovative and practical investments we encourage at EPA. We have a moral obligation to reduce carbon pollution in this country, and in order to do that we have to lean more heavily on alternative sources of energy.