A Japanese Town That Kicked the Oil Habit
Shin Abe doesn't find it odd that the picturesque little Japanese town of Kuzumaki, where he has lived all his life, generates some of its electricity with cow dung. Nor is the 15-year-old middle school student blown away by the vista of a dozen wind turbines spinning atop the forested peak of nearby Mt. Kamisodegawa. And it's old news to Abe that his school gets 25% of its power from an array of 420 solar panels located near the campus. "That's the way it's been," he shrugs. "It's natural."
To Abe, it is. But the blase teen has grown up in an alternative universe — one that might be envisioned by Al Gore. That's because Kuzumaki (population 8,000) has over the past decade transformed itself into a living laboratory for the development of sustainable and diversified energy sources. "When I was growing up, all we had [to generate power] was oil," says Kazunori Fukasawaguchi, a Kuzumaki native who now serves in local government. "I never imagined this kind of change." (Read TIME's Top 10 Green Ideas of 2008.)
In resource-poor Japan, which imports 90% of its fuel, Kuzumaki is a marvel of energy self-sufficiency. Signs of the town's comprehensive focus on environmental sustainability are visible from its mountaintops to the pens of the dairy cows that once were the bedrock of local commerce. Atop Mt. Kamisodegawa, the 12 wind turbines, each 305 feet (93 m) tall, have the capacity to convert mountain gusts into 21,000 KW of electricity — more than enough to meet the needs of the town's residents. The excess is sold to neighboring communities.