Uruguay gets 98% of its power from renewable sources.

NPR had a piece on the little South American nation that’s leading the way to a less polluted future, getting nearly all of its electricity from well-placed windmills and an economic system that makes it pay:

Méndez Galain’s plan was built around two simple facts about his country. First, while there wasn’t a domestic supply of fossil fuels like coal or oil, there was a great deal of wind. Second, that wind blew over a country that was, to a great extent, composed of uninhabited agricultural land. His vision for Uruguay’s energy future was to cover that empty land with hundreds of wind turbines.

To solve the question of how to pay for all those turbines, Méndez Galain came up with a variation on an approach used by some electric utilities in neighboring Brazil. Those utilities were run via public-private partnerships, in which the utilities handled energy generation, while private companies were in charge of power distribution and customer service. Méndez Galain’s scheme involved reversing that relationship, so that private companies would be in charge of setting up and maintaining the wind turbines that would power Uruguay’s grid, while the public utility would continue to distribute that energy to its customers

His scheme had the built-in advantage of pushing the billions of dollars in upfront cost to construct all those wind turbines onto the private companies. In exchange, the public utility would agree to buy all the energy those turbines produced at a set rate for 20 years.

“Investors need to have the security that their investment will be paid back,” explains Méndez Galain, “and for that they need a certain amount of time.”