(This article first appeared in the NEC Newsletter, published by the New England Coalition on Nuclear Pollution.)
There is a town in Austria called Güssing, which has a population of about 3700 and is the main community in a district of 25000. It was one of the poorest in the country, economically depending primarily on farming and forestry for income, but spending huge amounts of their income on fuel and power. Their economic situation was so tenuous that of the working people in the town, 70% or more had to commute weekly to Vienna to find work.
In the early 1990’s, the people of Güssing came to realize they were being kept in poverty by their use of imported energy. They decided to produce their own power from their forests and farms, using primarily wood and vegetable oils, but additionally anything they could utilize. They also invested heavily in efficiencies to reduce consumption.
Today, they are self-sufficient producers of energy, relying entirely on renewable resources. The processes they use for producing energy are very much less destructive to their environment than using imported oil, and they are able to do this with sustainable forestry, using only about half the available resources.
For Güssing, the economic result is the real surprise. Fifty businesses have moved into town or opened in the town since the renewable energy project started, and 1000 jobs have been created. Instead of people looking elsewhere for work, people were moving to Güssing. Instead of spending €6 million each year on fuel and power, they create renewable energy worth €14 million.
They make 120 gallons of diesel oil from a cord of wood, and achieve 85% overall efficiency in energy production from a woodgas powered generator; the figures cited in the article above are the results they actually obtain. Somewhat disbelieving, I checked these figures. According to the manufacturer, the GE Jenbacher generators used in Güssing are actually from an older model. The newest model improves the efficiency slightly.