Portugal Slams In Renewables (and it seems to be working …)

Moura Photovoltaic Solar Power station in Amareleja, Moura district, Portugal. Photograph: Teri Pengilley

Five years ago, the Portuguese decided to get serious about renewable energy.

Now, according to an article by Elisabeth Rosenthal in the New York Times, they’ve gone from getting 17 percent of their electricity from renewables to nearly 45 percent today. Land-based wind power has grown sevenfold and Portugal is slated to have a nationwide electric-car charging network by next year.

(In case you’re wondering, in 2009, according to the US Energy Information Administration, the US got less than 11% of it’s juice from renewables, and more than half of that came from conventional hydro power, like the Bonneville Power Administration dams on the Columbia and Snake Rivers in the Northwest.)

Prime Minister José Sócrate – who seems very pleased with himself — is quoted as saying, “The experience of Portugal shows that it is possible to make these changes in a very short time.”

Downsides? Portuguese ratepayers – who’ve long paid twice what Americans pay for electricity — have seen their rates go up 15 percent over the past 5 years.

Enviros are concerned about impacts to birds from wind generators and habitat flooded for hydro dams. There have been fewer jobs created than promised.

And locals living near wind farms complain about light and noise and just plain having to look at the dang things.

But, the article notes, “Energy experts consider Portugal’s experiment a success.”

Of course, there are lots of differences between Portugal and the US, factors that legitimately make a comparable energy make-over way more difficult over here. Not the least of which is that the national government in Portugal (and many European countries, for that matter) has more power to effect change than in America, where where much of the jurisdiction for utility policy lies with the states.

But there’s another element we seem to be missing here that the Portuguese somehow found a supply of: political leadership.

“You cannot imagine the pressure we suffered that first year,” the article quotes Manuel Pinho, Portugal’s minister of economy and innovation from 2005 until last year, as saying. Pinho, credited with being the brains behind the transition, added, “Politicians must take tough decisions.”

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About liammoriarty

I'm a journalist living in Seattle and Europe. This blog is to explore the connections and commonalities between Western Europe and the Pacific Northwest.
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