VR stokes the winds of change | VailDaily.com

VR stokes the winds of change

Clark Anderson

Clean, renewable and free.Sounds like a modern day fairytale. Early next week, Vail Resorts will take another step in making that fairytale a reality on Vail Mountain.In collaboration with the Eagle Valley Alliance for Sustainability, the ski company will submit a request to the U.S. Forest Service’s Holy Cross Ranger District for permission to develop and operate four wind energy turbines within the Vail ski area special use permit.The turbines would be constructed on a half-acre of public land along windswept Ptarmigan Ridge. The proposal, rekindled from a 1983 plan, is expected to pay off its initial investment of $400,000 in 8 to 10 years, providing clean and virtually free energy thereafter.Bringing it into viewThe Vail Wind Project could do more than create electricity and improve Vail’s tarnished environmental image, proponents say, though it serves both purposes well. Equally important is the impact that the project could have in creating awareness and promoting the use of wind and other renewable energies.The project recognizes that potential, stating a goal “to demonstrate the practicality of wind energy development for partial energy independence at other ski areas, businesses, and residences,” as one of four primary objectives.Luke Cartin, environmental coordinator for Vail Resorts, believes that developing renewable energy in such a high profile area provides a powerful endorsement for wind energy.”I think a huge statement in supporting wind as well as renewable energy is to take charge and produce your own. Since we have such a windy spot on Ptarmigan Ridge, we have a great opportunity to step up and produce our own energy and make a huge statement at the same time,” Cartin says.Adam Palmer, founder of Eagle Valley Alliance for Sustainability, agrees.”We talked about Vail erecting or purchasing its own turbine at the Greeley wind farm, but it lacked the connection that this will have. The connection is key; getting two million people a year to see these turbines, to know that wind energy is powering lifts on the mountain,” Palmer says. “It’s a powerful statement it is a strong endorsement for wind energy.”According to Bob Gardener of Holy Cross Energy, if done correctly, the Vail Wind Project could pique public interest in wind energy.”It’s going to have noticeablity, notoriety; it’s going to be in a place where lots of visitors as well as residents will be able to see it,” Gardener says. “I’m sure Vail will provide some information on wind; hopefully they will tell people where they can purchase wind. I do think it will increase the public’s awareness of wind energy and how convenient it is.” To some, the visual impact of the turbines is a concern. “There are concerns with the visual impact, but it’s a matter of striking a balance,” Palmer says. “Personally, I want people to see them; it’s an important part of it. We want to find a balance and create something big enough to get noticed and to produce significant energy, yet not so large as to be a real eye sore.”He also believes that the beauty of the turbines is simple to see if people consider what they represent. “It’s clean energy. It represents an independent self-sustaining power source. In 8 to 10 years, the initial investment will pay for itself, and at that point its basically free energy. It’s an investment in renewable energy, and it works.”The emergence of windOn a global scale, wind energy has enjoyed increasing popularity over the past decade. The American Wind Energy Association claims that wind energy has seen an average growth rate of 30 percent per year over the past five years, while the U.S. Department of Energy now recognizes wind as the world’s fastest growing source of electricity generation in the world.In the U.S., wind farms currently generate about 10 billion kilowatt-hours annually. While that figure remains small relative to traditional coal-fired electrical power generation, it is enough to power one million average American homes.The U.S. DOE’s Energy Information Administration judges that wind energy has become more attractive in part due to technological advances that have improved the efficiency of wind turbines, making them far more cost effective and in some parts of the country just as cheap as coal and natural gas energy.To some, the greatest benefits of wind lie in its sustainable nature, providing a renewable energy supply that reduces the need for extractive mining practices, dependence on foreign fuels, and emissions from burning coal and natural gas.Of course, the environmental benefits of wind energy have long been appreciated, but the market benefits of wind are what have made it a legitimate contender in the powerful energy industry, with 2001 worldwide sales topping $7 billion, according to the Global Wind Energy Report 2002, AWEA.The shrinking cost gap between wind and traditional non-renewable energy is shifting further attention to wind power. This is especially true given increasing public scrutiny of the energy industry, including the hidden costs of non-renewables, one of the most heavily subsidized industries in the U.S.A report published by the Congressional Joint Committee on Taxation released in December 1998 estimated that the oil and gas industry would receive tax breaks accounting for almost $11 billion.According to Palmer the choice is easy: “If you create a level playing field, renewables win.”The projected output of the Vail Wind Project is modest relative to global wind energy, but it would provide sufficient energy to power three chairlifts, and helps to support wind as an emerging market.Back homeAfter an initial review by the Forest Service, the project proposal will be subject to public input. Public opinion will play a considerable role in the outcome of the project, because four wind turbines would be constructed and used on public lands.Dave Ozawa, the Forest Service’s regional Snow Ranger, likes the idea behind the project, but believes that a final approval will depend on public opinion and the outcome of an Environmental Impact statement (EIS).”We think its great idea. We will notify the public (of the project proposal) and see what kind of feedback we get …,” he says. “In the earlier EIS, one of the concerns was the potential impact to wildlife, and birds in particular. The newer turbines are designed to turn more slowly, that should be less of an issue now.”Adam Palmer agrees that input is an important part of the process and hopes that people will voice their comments, either positive or negative.”Public input should be weighed in considerably; it’s on public land,” Palmer says. “We’re not expecting on-site environmental issues, so it really does come down to public support.”As Vail Resorts nears completion of the preliminary phases of the wind project, the company’s environmental record will continue to be closely scrutinized by environmental groups, which have been highly critical of the company’s development policies in the past.Vail’s Cartin believes that the company is stepping up to the challenge, citing improved recycling, use of Energystar products, wind purchases, and conversion to efficient lighting as signs that the company is headed in the right direction.”I am trying to let people know that this wind project is not one separate project, but a step in an ongoing process,” Cartin says. “Many things have been done on the mountain, and there are many more things to come.”

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