Resorts back renewable energy
VAIL – While elections are heating up, some ski companies are hoping their political influence will help cool things off in Colorado.
Vail Resorts and Aspen Skiing Company have endorsed Amendment 37, a statewide ballot initiative that would mandate Colorado utility companies up their renewable energy sales.
“As a company, we’ve been buying wind power and doing some solar projects,” said Bill Jensen, senior vice president of Vail Resorts. “We are a believer in renewable energy. The industry is becoming more and more knowledgeable and supportive of initiatives like this bill that can improve the environment in our state.”
Amendment 37 is on the Nov. 2 ballot and would require the state’s largest utility companies to generate or purchase 10 percent of their electricity from renewable sources like wind, solar and geothermal energy by 2015.
Supporters say the measure will decrease dependence on foreign and domestic fossil fuels, reduce air pollution and cut down on the heat-trapping gases that cause global warming.
Aspen Skiing Company put its name on the list of supporters early on in the campaign.
“We see climate change as the most pressing environmental issue facing the ski industry,” said Auden Schendler, the company’s director of environmental affairs. “I’ve looked into the science on this, and we’ve been following it for 10 years. The best information we have suggests that running a ski business will be more difficult as the climate changes.
“There’s no controversy, as far as we see it,” he added.
Jensen echoed that worry.
“The (ski) industry as a whole is concerned about global warming across the United States. Especially for ski resorts at lower elevations and latitudes, one or two degrees could be significant,” Jensen said.
Amendment 37’s opponents don’t argue against the idea of renewable energy, but they do call the initiative ill-crafted and potentially very expensive for commercial electricity customers.
Xcel Energy is a lead critic of the measure. The company asserts that the mandate could cost as much as $1.5 billion in potential energy costs.
“You can make renewable energy cost-effective or you can do it with no regard to cost whatsoever,” said Xcel spokesman Mark Stutz. “If you understand that part of the equation, we think you have to vote against it.”
Supporters claim that passage of Amendment 37 could actually save consumers money on their electric bills.
“You’re going to hear wildly fluctuating numbers on the costs of this, and it all boils down to the assumptions you make about the energy industry in the next 20 years: the price of natural gas, the cost of solar, what happens with wind power and (federal tax credits),” Stutz said.
Regardless, Vail is willing to pay the price of renewable energy.
“Renewable is more expensive and we’re a significant utility user. We spend north of $3 million per year in utility costs,” Jensen said. “But we wanted to show leadership, as a highly visible organization in the state, that we believe renewable energy is part of the answer for the future.”
Intrawest, which owns Copper Mountain and Winter Park Resort, has not taken a position on Amendment 37, but that may change.
“It would behoove us to support the amendment and we’re certainly looking at it very closely,” said Matt Sugar, Intrawest spokesman. “Time will tell if we can come out and give our full support.”
“Typically, we don’t take positions on (ballot measures), but we think this is a very important issue, because it’s very much in line with the types of things we try to achieve internally as stewards of public lands,” Sugar added.
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