The 21st century has a new religion and the pilgrimage has already begun in earnest. As with all good religions it emerged quite by accident. Jesus would admire the people and town of Gussing, Austria for they have produced quite a miracle. It’s at the edge of a greener frontier: alternative energy. Güssing is the first community in the European Union to cut carbon emissions by more than 90 percent, helping it attract a steady stream of scientists, politicians and eco-tourists.
Güssing’s transformation started 15 years ago when, struggling to pay its electricity bill, the town ordered that all public buildings would stop using fossil fuels. Since then, Güssing has fostered a whole renewable energy industry, with 50 companies creating more than 1,000 jobs and producing heat, power and fuels from the sun, sawdust, corn and cooking oil.
Signs reading “Eco-Energy Land” greet people entering the town, located 130 kilometers, or 80 miles, southeast of Vienna. Visitors are as diverse as Scottish farmers, Japanese investors and a delegation from the Organization for Security and Cooperation in Europe.
The town could hardly afford its €6 million, or $8.1 million, fuel bill when Peter Vadasz was first elected mayor in 1992. The turnaround started after he hired Rheinhard Koch, an electrical engineer and Güssing native, to assess how the town of 4,000 people could benefit from its natural resources.
Today, Güssing generates 22 megawatt hours of power a year, including an 8 megawatt surplus that is sold to the national grid, said Koch, who now runs the European Center for Renewable Energy, based in the town and funded by Güssing, the EU and the Austrian government.
Just to turn to renewable energy brought advantages we didn’t dream of before,” said Vadasz, a former schoolteacher. “A lot of money that left before, now stays in the region.”
Güssing began building its energy network in 1992 with a wood-burning plant that provided heat for 27 homes. The second step was a facility that made car fuel from rapeseed. By 1996, Güssing had started to generate electricity and expanded its heating system to the whole town.
The breakthrough came in 1998, when ….. (more here)