Vail windmills could power four lightbulbs
VAIL, Colorado” Windmills that Vail Resorts recently proposed to put at Eagle’s Nest atop Vail Mountain are little more than “toys,” one energy expert said.
“They would have trouble running a 10th Mountain hut,” said Randy Udall, former director of Aspen’s Community Office for Resource Efficiency, in an e-mail, referring to the backcountry cabins near Vail.
The new proposal significantly downsizes a 2003 plan that would have put four 100-foot-tall, 100-kilowatt windmills on Ptarmigan Ridge above the Back Bowls, creating enough power to run four chairlifts.
Some say the latest proposals are a sign that Vail’s environmental leadership is lacking.
Allen Best, a longtime Colorado journalist who covers ski towns and energy and the environment, said the projects seem more “cosmetic” than substantive.
“This company is big, and they have a reputation of being a leader on the resort, guest-experience side,” said Best, who writes the Vail Daily “Mountain Town News” feature. “But they haven’t shown leadership on the environmental front.”
Ski resorts consume a lot of energy, from running lifts to making snow, Best said. With concerns over the global oil supply and climate change looming, Vail ” as a community ” needs to show more leadership on harnessing local energy, he said.
“In fairness to Vail, they’re starting down that road, and they’re to be commended for that,” Best said. “But these (projects) are not ambitious things.”
The $400,000 windmills proposed in 2003 would have powered four chairlifts and paid for themselves within a decade, Vail Associates said.
But the company withdrew the proposal shortly after it was proposed. The reasons are unclear, although the Division of Wildlife expressed concerns about dangers to birds. The project would have needed approval from the U.S. Forest Service, which owns most of Vail Mountain.
“We decided not to pursue the 2003 wind turbine proposal for a variety of reasons that seemed relevant and practical at the time,” the company said in a statement issued through a spokeswoman Tuesday. “The fact that we decided not to move forward then doesn’t mean that we won’t pursue it again at some point.”
The new plan proposes two 1-kilowatt, 30-foot-tall windmills at Eagle’s Nest. The windmills could each create about 1,750 kilowatt hours per year, or enough energy to power about two 100-watt light bulbs, Udall said.
Vail Resorts uses 152 million kilowatt hours of energy per year, the company said in 2006. That includes its five ski mountains, hotels and other resort properties.
Vail is moving forward this spring with the construction of an 8.4-kilowatt solar installation at Eagle’s Nest. Udall gave Vail “props” for this installation, noting it would creating about 12,000 kilowatt-hours per year, or about one-ten-thousandth of the company’s total energy usage.
“We have to start somewhere,” he said.
Still, Udall said he wasn’t sure the bigger, 100-kilowatt windmills would be a great idea at Vail, citing less-than-ideal wind on high mountain ridges, the difficulty of maintenance at 11,000 feet, as well as decreased density of wind at high altitude.
Udall emphasized the need to conserve energy first.
“In general, we need to save as much electricity as possible before trying to produce more power,” he said. “A few hotel retrofits would save more power than could be produced by 100-kilowatt wind turbines.”
Vail Associates ” the subsidiary of Vail Resorts that runs Vail Mountain ” said it might look at other renewable energy projects in the future.
“We’re installing solar panels at Eagle’s Nest this summer, and it’s likely we’ll continue to investigate other innovative sustainable energy initiatives that make good business sense,” the statement said.
Other resorts have invested in more sizable renewable energy projects. Jiminy Peak in Massachusetts installed a 1.5-megawatt wind turbine, which supplies more than half of the energy that the resort uses.
Aspen Skiing Co. built a 115-kilowatt micro-hydroelectric plant at Snowmass. It also has four solar installations, including a 150-kilowatt installation on a half-acre in Carbondale.
The company is also investigating installing 1.7-megawatt wind turbines at the Cirque atop Snowmass, said Auden Schendler, executive director of sustainability for the company.
Those turbines would create more energy than the ones Vail had considered in 2003.
“The reason we do renewables on site is we have the opportunity,” Schendler said. “It’s real, it’s tangible. And this kind of small-scale power is what the future of electricity generation looks like. We have the opportunity, so we might as well do it.”
Aspen already buys “renewable energy certificates,” as does Vail Resorts, which advertises “100 percent powered by wind” status as a result. Vail Resorts announced its wind-credit purchases in 2006 in a press conference with then-Gov. Bill Owens and U.S. Rep. Mark Udall.
But Schendler said Aspen is moving away from the certificates.
“On-site power means you actually did something to reduce atmospheric CO2,” Schendler said. “It’s real, it means something. RECs don’t always mean anything changed.”
Ski resorts are increasingly interested in looking beyond energy credits, said Michael Berry, president of the National Ski Areas Associations.
The increasing cost of oil is only heightening that interest, Berry said.
“I think we’re really at a tipping point,” he said. “The people who are committed to it philosophically do it in spite of the economics. If, all of a sudden, it becomes an economic decision, I think you’ll see people move in that direction very aggressively.”
Staff Writer Edward Stoner can be reached at 748-2929 or firstname.lastname@example.org.
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