Snowmass wind turbine topples |

Snowmass wind turbine topples

SNOWMASS, Colorado ” An experiment to test if wind turbines are a viable option to use at Snowmass Ski Area to produce power for the Aspen Skiing Co. ended in disaster Thursday.

A 165-foot high tower fitted with anemometers crashed to the ground on the upper Big Burn area when a winch hoisting the heavy structure failed, according to Auden Schendler, Skico executive director of sustainability. The tower was damaged beyond repair, he said.

The Skico is working with the Aspen-Sopris Ranger District of the U.S. Forest Service and Leitner-Poma on the feasibility study of three wind turbines. There is little doubt that there is enough wind atop the Big Burn, Schendler said. The study was needed to see if it is too windy.

Three anemometers on the tower were positioned to measure horizontal wind speed at different heights. A fourth would measure vertical wind speeds. Officials with a subsidiary of Leitner-Poma want one year’s worth of wind data to assess. The Skico already possesses good information about winter conditions. It needs to gauge wind speeds during months the chairlifts are closed.

Thursday’s collapse was just a temporary setback. Schendler said the parties will try to erect the tower again within the next two weeks.

If the study indicates turbines will work, the idea is to erect three wind turbines and possibly a fourth in a line ascending from the upper Big Burn chairlift terminal. The first would be placed about 650 feet up the slope from the terminal. The others would be spaced a similar distance apart.

The concept was promoted by Jim Stark, a longtime forest technician in the Aspen-Sopris Ranger District. He pursued the idea after the Forest Service and other federal agencies received an executive order to seek alternative energy opportunities on public lands.

Stark said in a previous interview that the Big Burn could be an ideal spot for a wind project because infrastructure such as roads and power lines already exist. The proposal will go through the federal environmental review process.

The Skico must decide if it will fund the project. Schendler said the ability to tap a reliable alternative energy source is attractive, particularly since energy prices are so volatile. Three turbines would provide about two-thirds of the Skico’s current consumption of electricity.

The turbines also would help the Skico accomplish its goal of being carbon neutral ” or offsetting all the greenhouse gases it produces ” by 2020.

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