The last in a series about Cuba and Vermont, Perspectives on Energy and Culture. based on my visit to Cuba with a delegation of energy industry professionals, and a Cuban colleague’s visit to Vermont where I developed a similar tour. Learn more in The Homeowner's Energy Handbook and read the entire story online with more photos and videos at The Creativist.
At Green Mountain Power’s Energy Innovation Center in Rutland ,Vermont, we meet with a large portion of GMP staff, all eager to share their experiences and to hear Mario’s. The EIC is more than just a workspace; it’s a place to put words into action. We learned about GMPs all-encompassing energy savings efforts that range from total home and lifestyle energy makeovers, to their unique “Cow-Power” energy service. Cow-Power involves investing in on-farm methane digesters for electricity generation, and providing that power at a premium cost to customers who want to support clean energy. The premium payments go directly to help offset the cost of building the processing facility. After our meeting, we toured the renovated historic building that was, in itself, a huge investment in a downtown that desperately needed the encouragement provided by this project. The education center showcases energy efficiency and renewable energy projects promoted by the utility, including a talking cow that tells the Cow-Power story. The building sports solar electric panels, a small wind generator, super-efficient windows and insulation, cold-climate air-source heat pumps, and an Ice Bear energy storage air conditioning system. The Ice Bear use off-peak electricity to make ice that can be used to provide cooling during peak power times, thus reducing energy demand (and cost) for midday air conditioning needs.
Mario finally delivered his own message to an engaged and curious crowd in White River Junction. The event was sponsored by two non-profit institutions: New Community Project, and The Center for Transformational Practice. He spoke about Cuba’s energy system and efficiency efforts that were quickly instituted during the difficult Special Period. These reforms and austerity measures lead to Cuba’s Energy Revolution in 2006, which has now become a model to the rest of the world for delivering energy efficiency and renewable energy, along with other sustainable practices such as organic farming. Mario told personal stories of having no power for 18 hours or more every day. Nobody knew when the power would be on. Mosquitoes and sweltering heat drove families out of their homes at night where they would also find and commiserate with neighbors in the same predicament. In stark contrast to the abundance of the North American lifestyle, there were food shortages and water was scarce. Breakfast was often whatever fruit was in season, then off to work. A different planet. All because of a ridiculous embargo.
Today, Cuba is slowly developing infrastructure with modest investments from the European Union and Latin America. Ninety five percent of the eleven million inhabitants have electricity. Tourism is a big part of the economy, but cannot currently support the influx of visitors that would occur with relaxed U.S. policy. There is a small photovoltaic panel manufacturing facility, a growing medical industry with quality health care and a Doctors-for-oil trade arrangement with Venezuela (human labor is considered a national commodity, a resource to be sold or traded), farmers are revered, there is active oil exploration off the coast. A thriving educational system considers future needs and delivers knowledge that will be required at the time students graduate because the government is required to provide a job to citizens. The stakes are high. Universities are focused on energy, technology, and biotech. Kids have never seen an incandescent light bulb, bring recyclables to school, and most schools have community gardens. Cubans are educated, engaged, motivated to join the world economy, nimble, and readily able to re-invent themselves.
When we arrived home that evening, the temperature had warmed into the 20s and even Mario said that it didn’t feel so cold now. Not quite open-window temps, but we stood in the driveway and threw snowballs in our cosmonaut suits until our hands were numb.
Be sure to read the entire story online with more photos and videos at The Creativist.
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