The small town of Güssing, Austria has become powered entirely by renewable energy. However, Güssing has had very humble beginnings. Situated in eastern Austria, the region was one of the poorest districts in the country.
Relying heavily on agriculture, the town had no transportation infrastructure, unemployment was high, and people were commuting to Vienna for work, taking revenue out of the region. Furthermore, they could not keep young people there as they were moving away. With an $8.1 million fossil fuel bill they were struggling to repay, Güssing was quite literally a dying town.
Since Güssing’s biggest bill was coming from fossil fuels, they decided to start there. Some of the town leaders realized that $8 million could be better spent elsewhere that contributed to the local economy. In order to become self-sufficient, they first had to reduce energy usage. In 1990, Güssing implemented an energy efficient program by putting new insulation in public buildings and using energy-efficient bulbs. They reduced energy use in buildings by nearly 50 percent. The town went a step further and mandated the elimination of fossil fuels in all public buildings.
Güssing has used the burning of biomass to replace fossil fuels. Surrounded by 133 hectares of forest, the town is abundant with biomass. Some local residents saw this potential, and started a heating station for six homes. Soon this spread and the mayor pushed for the heating system to be expanded to the whole town. In 2001, Güssing installed a biomass gasification plant, the first industrial-scale power plant of its kind in the world.
Since Güssing’s efforts at sustainability, the town has been completely revitalized. Not only have they cut carbon emissions by more than 90 percent, (New York Times, 2007) but have also brought revenue back into the region. The town attracts scientists, politicians, and eco-tourists; all of whom invest in the community. People stay in the region now due to the nearly 1,500 new jobs renewable energy has created. The small town of Güssing, Austria should be an example to other communities that sustainability is achievable and profitable.