By Laurie Goering
Industrial community makes change with a minimum of cost, pain
KALMAR, Sweden — Though a fraction of Chicago's size, this industrial city in southeast Sweden has plenty of similarities with it, including a long, snowy winter and a football team the town's crazy about.
One thing is dramatically different about Kalmar, however: It is on the verge of eliminating the use of fossil fuels, for good, and with minimal effect on its standard of living.
The city of 60,000—and its surrounding 12-town region, with a quarter-million people—has traded in most of its oil, gas and electric furnaces for community "district heat," produced at plants that burn sawdust and wood waste left by timber companies. Hydropower, nuclear power and windmills now provide more than 90 percent of the region's electricity.
Kalmar's publicly owned cars and buses—and a growing share of its private and business vehicles—run on biogas made from waste wood and chicken manure, or an 85 percent ethanol blend from Brazil.
Just as important, the switch from oil and gas is helping slash fuel bills and preserve jobs in a worldwide economic downturn. And despite dramatic drops in fossil fuel consumption, residents say nobody has been forced to give up the car or huddle around the dining table wearing three sweaters to stay warm.