Will other companies copy Vail Resorts’ ‘energy layoffs?’ | VailDaily.com

Will other companies copy Vail Resorts’ ‘energy layoffs?’

Scott N. Miller
Vail, CO, Colorado

Vail Resorts usually can’t win, at least in the eyes of its most ardent critics. But it might have scored a solid hit with both critics and investors this week.

Most recently, our Broomfield-based resort company has caught flak for its proposal to put a handful of electricity-generating windmills in strategic areas of Vail Mountain. Those windmills, critics say, will generate roughly enough power to toast a bagel every other week. OK, the part about bagel toasting was made up, but the windmills won’t produce much power, leading to charges the company is playing fast and loose with its self-trumpeted stand as an ecological leader in the resort business. It’s one more chorus of a common complaint.

Then the company did something real: Company boss Rob Katz this week pledged the company to a goal of reducing its energy use by 10 percent within two years.

That doesn’t sound like much at first glance, but the company used 152 megawatts of power in 2006. Cut that amount by 15 megawatts, and the company will save enough power to light about 12,000 average-sized homes.

That’s much better than a couple of windmills.

From the looks of it, though, Vail Resorts is making a sweet drink out of the bitter fruit of high energy prices. Like every company and family in America, Vail Resorts’ bottom line has been hit, and hit hard, by rising energy prices. Cutting consumption now makes sense on the bottom line.

In fact, it won’t surprise me to see companies across the country copy Vail Resorts’ “energy layoff” plan. If done right, the result is basically free money, if companies use existing resources to cut their energy use. In Vail Resorts’ case, the savings will be at least $2.5 million per year, based on its last annual energy bill of $25 million.

And, while 10 percent is going to be a big cut for Vail Resorts, given that virtually every chairlift in the company runs on electricity, and that the company has to keep its customer service levels at least where they are now, dropping consumption by that much is probably realistic for just about everyone in America.

I’ve read several times that families can cut their electric bills by as much as 25 percent by doing stuff as simple as turning off the power strips their computers and TVs are plugged into and unplugging phone chargers and similar gadgets. Throw in a couple of compact flourescent light bulbs, better home thermostat management and a good tune-up for the family flivver, and you’re there. Vail Resorts’ employees have been asked to find ways to cut the company’s energy bill, so it will be interesting to see what ideas they have.

But the big news, and maybe the only good news to come out of the current run-up in energy prices, is that the payback question is starting to get a lot more simple to answer.

Folks in the alternative energy business have for years said that putting solar panels on the roof is a good thing in its own right, and that folks who ask how long a “green” improvement takes to pay for itself probably shouldn’t install them. Now, though, the paybacks from energy-saving or producing improvements are getting a lot shorter, making the idea of green building or remodeling ” or even burning beetle-killed wood to power electric generators ” a lot easier to swallow as an economic proposition.

For the immediately foreseeable future, we aren’t going to conserve enough, or use enough alternative energy sources, to free ourselves from oil. But every little bit we cut will help at bill-paying time. And more and different ways to save and create electricity will help us move toward a day when we don’t count entirely on dead dinosaurs to light and heat our homes.

Vail Resorts is actually pretty far out front on this one.

Vail Daily Business Editor Scott Miller writes about Valley Business every Saturday. Reach him at smiller@vaildaily.com.

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