It is possible for a community to become totally energy independent when they really try. Most continue the way it has always been, with individuals paying monthly their monopoly electric company. At least three islands have succeeded in switching totally to renewable energy and keeping their money local. A perfect example is Samso Island, with its 3,750 year-round residents and about 75,000 tourists from June to August, off the coast of Denmark.
In 1998, civic leaders there led 450 residents in investing in wind power. One selling point was the money the people could make from selling power back to the grid since there is so much available wind. The cooperative they formed installed two windmills and private investors added five more. Each of the one megawatt wind turbines power about 630 homes.
Residents were so supportive of the project that ten more 2.3 megawatt windmills were installed offshore. Five were purchased by the Samso municipality, three by Samso farmers and two by an investment company which sold shares.
The windmills produce more electricity than the island uses, the investment paid back in a few years, and so much power is produced that the island is completely carbon neutral. The offshore windmills compensate for transportation carbon emissions from cars, ferries and farming equipment.
Electrician Brian Kjaer powers his own house and his electric car, has no energy bills for his lifetime and needs no fuel for his car from simply installing his own wind turbine. It did cost him an initial $30,000 investment, but it pays for itself in five years from the income he gets selling his extra energy back to the grid.
Residents use other energy methods than wind. Solar collectors are seen on roofs. Straw, a barley growing by-product from farmers’ fields, is being burned in three local district heating plants, providing more income to the farmers. A fourth plant uses wood chips from local forests and solar thermal panels to heat water. One plant is owned by 240 households, one by a private farmer, and two by an energy company. Under discussion are improvements such as combining straw and solar power with heating pumps which use less straw. The straw would then be available for a new biogas plant to fuel cars and a new gas ferry.
The mastermind behind the idea of transforming his hometown is Soren Hermansen, the director of Samso’s Energy Academy, firstname.lastname@example.org. He has made Samso a world leader in sustainability, an example of how well it works through community engagement and local ownership. The academy is a conference center where globally interested parties come for discussions on new renewable energy technologies and learn how Samso’s ten-year renewable energy plan has been so successful. They can return home and implement similar plans in their communities.
The academy building is also a showcase for green building techniques. It is highly insulated to minimize energy consumption and uses passive solar placement of windows. It contains a natural ventilation system and uses rainwater for flushing toilets. Hot water comes from a small thermal solar system; heat from a district straw burning plant. Electric lighting is low energy and all electric appliances are energy savers. Photovoltaic solar cells supply electricity, supplemented by Samso’s grid system from mostly wind turbines.
What started it all was when Svend Auken, Minister for the Environment in Denmark, began a competition after attending the Kyoto Climate Talks in Japan in 1997. The contest was for communities or islands to develop a realistic doable plan for transition to total self-sufficiency using renewable energy. As the announced winner in October 1997, Samso was granted funding from the Danish Energy Authority.
Within ten years, 34 megawatts were being produced by eleven onshore and ten offshore wind turbines. Farmers bought nine of the eleven onshore wind turbines and two more purchased by over 500 people living on the island or with summer homes there. While the average carbon dioxide footprint in Denmark is ten tons per inhabitant, on Samso Island it is a negative twelve tons. The island’s goal is to phase out all oil, gas and coal by 2030.
There must be some communities in the United States who can send civic leaders to the Samso Energy Academy and develop similar renewable energy plans. Some federal government money could be well spent on a similar competition with funding to a community which develops their own renewable energy plan. Please e-mail your representatives. Link to the website to find state representatives in Congress.