Swedes discuss biomass use with Minnesotans

By Ryan C. Christiansen
Web exclusive posted August 1, 2008 at 11:07 a.m. CST

A delegation from the city of Vxj, Sweden, is visiting Duluth, Minn., this week to share how Vxj uses biomass for heat and has been dubbed "The Greenest City in Europe." Vxj Mayor Bo Frank met with Duluth Mayor Don Ness and other city officials, the Duluth Chamber of Commerce and gave a presentation to the public about how Vxj aims to become a fossil-fuel-free city.

In 1996 Vxj, a city in southern Sweden, set goals to reduce carbon dioxide emissions per capita by 50 percent in 2010 and by 70 percent in 2025. So far, the city has reduced its emissions by 35 percent, mainly due to the expansion of its heating system, which uses wood waste biomass from sawmills for fuel.

"It has been a good thing for the families, the municipality, and the economy to use the heat from this biomass," said Henrik Nilsson, public relations manager for the city of Vxj. "It is the cheapest way to heat your house and you don't have to be an eco-friend. If you just want to save money, you will use this way of heating and then, of course, you will be an environmental hero, as well, and that is just a bonus."

Nilsson said the people of Vxj as individuals don't feel like environmental heroes. "But when everyone is doing something," he said, "small things, like buying eco-friendly food, or just leaving their car and going by bicycle, or taking a walk to the store, for instance, they are all contributing to Vxj being the greenest city in Europe. It takes small things, small steps."

Besides using biomass for heat, Nilsson said Vxj residents monitor their electricity usage in currency instead of kilowatts. "We put up small screens in our flats where people actually can follow how much energy they use, and what they can do to save energy-and we show it in money, not kilowatts," he said.

Nilsson said there are economic advantages for Vxj, too, being the greenest city in Europe. "We do use The Greenest City in Europe' as our slogan in order to attract people," he said. "And we're having a lot of technical visits to our city from Asia, but also from North America." It's this eco-education and tourism component that inspired Duluth Sister Cities International to invite the Vxj delegation to Duluth, Minn., to talk about its greening efforts, according to Melissa Kadlec, executive director for the Sister Cities chapter.

"We feel that we have so many exchanges with culture, arts, and music, that there is an economic component that could potentially happen here," Kadlec said. "We thought this is a great opportunity for us as a sister city organization to show that potential."

Kadlec said Duluth, Minn., and Vxj, Sweden, have been sister cities for 20 years, but this is the first year the focus of the annual exchange of ideas has been on economics and the environment. "Who is to say that Duluth cannot learn from Vxj on what we could do to benefit from it," she said. "Vxj has also profited. They do technical tours and people come in from around the world to see how Vxj does it and so it has become a business for them, as well. Not only are they the greenest city and have those benefits, but they have profited from it as a business and so we wanted to explore that."

The Vxj delegation also includes Deputy Mayor Lotta Svanberg, Municipality Chief Executive Ove Dahl, and Chief Secretary Monica Sandberg.