Seattle Post-Intelligencer
February 7, 2006


Rachel's summary: Exercising foresight and forecaring, Sweden has set
a goal of ending its addiction to oil within 15 years. If Sweden can do
it, why can't we?

By Mattias Karen, Associated Press Writer

STOCKHOLM, Sweden -- U.S. President George W. Bush may have surprised
international observers by pledging in his State of the Union address
to break his country's addiction to foreign oil -- but Sweden was
already one step ahead of him.

The environmentally progressive Scandinavian nation has announced one
of its most ambitious goals yet: to completely end its dependency on
petroleum -- and do it in the next 15 years.

"Our dependency on oil should be broken by 2020," said Mona Sahlin,
the minister of Sustainable Development.

The target -- announced in September by Prime Minister Goran Persson -
has been met with applause from environmental organizations, but also
with great skepticism from some experts who think the target is

Officials here acknowledge that getting rid of oil completely in such
a short time is close to impossible, but the aim is to ensure that
Swedes will never be forced to use fossil fuels because a renewable
energy source is not available.

"There shall always be better alternatives to oil, which means no
house should need oil for heating, and no driver should need to turn
solely to gasoline," Sahlin told The Associated Press in an interview.

The ambitious plan is a response to global climate change, rising
petroleum prices and warnings by some experts that the world may soon
be running out of oil.

"We want to be both mentally and technically prepared" for a world
without oil, said Martin Larsson, a senior administrative officer in
the Ministry of Sustainable Development. "A lot of people think that
in five to six years, a liter of gasoline may cost 20 kronor ($2.50).
That would be a dramatic change, and a hard hit to a lot of
households." Today, the price is around $1.43 per liter.

Persson has said the target will be reached by boosting research on
alternative fuels, giving financial incentives for people switching to
"green alternatives," and increasing the annual electricity production
from renewable sources by 15 terawatt hours by 2016 -- that figure
equals nearly one-third of all the electricity used by Swedish
industries in 2004. Some tax breaks have already been introduced,
while Persson has formed a special commission tasked with finding
other ways to create a society independent of oil. The commission will
present its first proposals this summer.

As with Bush's plan, no one is debating Sweden's good intentions.

"I don't think this is realistic, but it is a good ambition," said
Kenneth Werling, chief executive of Agroetanol, which runs Sweden's
largest ethanol factory. "Maybe we can build a society that is less
dependent on oil, and that is good in itself."

Sahlin, however, is confident Sweden can succeed.

"Honestly, what is the alternative?" she said. "Wait and see when oil
gets even more expensive?"

Sahlin and other experts point to several factors that give Sweden
better chances than most countries to phase out oil.

The country of 9 million people has coastlines stretching hundreds of
kilometers, which have given rise to a number of wind power and water
power plants. A large new wind farm is being built off Sweden's
southern coast, expected to be online by 2009.

Sweden also has more forest per capita than any other EU country,
allowing it to burn tons of biomass, which has helped make it one of
the world leaders in renewable energy.

In 2003, 26 percent of the energy consumed in Sweden came from
renewable sources -- more than four times as much as the European
average of 6 percent, according to EU statistics. Only 32 percent of
its energy came from oil -- down from 77 percent in 1970, according to
Sweden's own statistics. About one-third of Sweden's energy is nuclear
power, with the rest coming mainly from coal and natural gas.

So while the EU is striving to double its average use of renewable
energy to 12 percent by 2010, Sweden is correct in setting the bar
much higher, said Jacqueline McGlade, executive director of the
European Environment Agency in Copenhagen, Denmark.

"Many countries are setting renewable energy targets. The difference
with Sweden is that the targets are achievable rather than
aspirational," McGlade said. "This is because government departments
across sectors in Sweden have built renewable energy into their long-
term policies."

That is evident in Sweden's system for heating houses and apartment
buildings -- a key function in a country where the harsh winter
lasts up to five months. Many Swedish counties use district heating
that distributes steam heat, often produced by burning garbage or

Today only 8 percent of Swedish houses are heated by oil, said Stefan
Edman, an environmental adviser to the government. As of Jan. 1, those
households get tax rebates if they switch to renewable sources.

"I'm an optimist in that area," Edman said. "I think we can completely
get rid of oil there."

A much bigger challenge will be the transportation sector. Only 1
percent of the about 4 million vehicles on Swedish roads run on
alternative fuels. But sales of so-called "environmental cars" that
run on alternative fuel have almost doubled over the last year, and
the parliament passed a law in December making it mandatory for all
major gas stations to offer at least one alternative fuel at its

Sweden already uses more ethanol per capita than any other EU country,
because of a pilot project where about 5 percent ethanol is mixed into
the gasoline sold at gas stations, in order to reduce pollution, said
Werling, the Agroetanol CEO.

Regardless of whether Sweden or the United States succeed in their
ambitions, they are likely to pave the way for more ambitious
renewable energy targets elsewhere in the world, said George
Sterzinger, executive director of the Renewable Energy Policy Project,
a Washington, D.C.-based organization working to boost the use of
alternative fuels in the United States.

"Society sets a goal, and in moving toward that goal technology
improves and you can set a better goal," Sterzinger said. "Taking on
that goal, it sets a sort of (example of) 'If Sweden can do it, why
can't we?'"

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