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Wind power blows into Congress

Matt Zalaznick

But gradually, that force of nature is now being harnessed throughout the mountains to more cleanly run ski lifts, mountaintop restaurants – even boost energy production at regional power plants.

Vail Mountain has been examining how much energy a modest wind farm at the summit, on Ptarmigan Ridge, could generate, and U.S. Sen. Wayne Allard, R-Colo., is proposing to offer tax credits for users of wind energy.

“This renewable energy legislation is very sound and environmentally friendly legislation that induces participation through strong financial incentives for individuals and small-business owners,” Allard says.

Allard’s Wind Energy Systems Act, which he introduced earlier this month, would offer a 30 percent tax credit for homeowners, farmers, ranchers and small-business owners who install or convert to wind energy systems, he says.

Three-quarters of the Western Slope’s electricity is generated by coal-fired power plants in Hayden and Craig. Only 7 percent of the region’s energy comes from wind; the rest comes from natural gas and other sources.

In Vail, for instance, environmental analysts realized the worst pollution came not from emissions from the town’s buses, but from the power plants that generate the town’s electricity, says Adam Palmer of the Eagle Valley Alliance for Sustainability.

Five percent of the town’s electricity comes from wind energy. But the biggest power gobbler in the town is the Vail Transportation Center, which accounts for more than 40 percent of the town’s energy use, Palmer said.

The town is planning to spend approximately $20,000 to make the Transportation Center more energy efficient, Palmer said.

“Since that’s the drive for the utilities, we hope to see some real impacts there,” Palmer said.

One of the most visible wind farms in the region is north of Greeley, near the Wyoming border. Energy from that farm can be purchased for just about 2 and a half cents more per 100-kilowatt block than electricity from coal-fired plants.

An average home heated with gas uses approximately 500 to 600 kilowatts of electric energy per month. One hundred kilowatt hours of electric power will run a 100-kilowatt light bulb for 100 hours.

There’s also a very visible, very large and very controversial wind farm proposed for a 28-square-mile stretch of Horseshoe Shoals on Nantucket Sound, between Nantucket and Cape Cod, Mass. That farm, which could create 420 megawatts of power, has created opposition from seaside residents concerned the 197-foot towers could be visible from shore.

The proposed half-acre wind farm atop Ptarmigan Ridge on Vail Mountain would be tiny by comparison. It would have just four turbines atop 100-foot towers. The towers north of Greeley are 900 feet high. The Vail farm, therefore, shouldn’t be an eyesore, Palmer says.

“They will be barely visible from Interstate 70 at Avon,” he says. “We’re not talking about a 900-kilowatt monster like in the wind farms near Greeley. These will be one-ninth that size.”

Vail Mountain has placed monitoring equipment on Ptarmigan Ridge, adjacent to Game Creek Bowl, to gauge how much wind energy could be generated there.

“The idea behind renewables is the power’s already there – the wind is always blowing – we just have to convert to electricity,” says Luke Cartin, Vail Mountain’s environmental coordinator.

Ptarmigan Ridge, where the wind blows at an average speed of 17.5 mph, is one of the windiest sites on Vail Mountain. A minimum wind speed of 9 mph is needed to generate electricity, and the wind blows harder than that on the ridge about half the time.

“That’s looking really promising right now. This is a big test,” Cartin says.

Wind power Vail Mountain now buys from Holy Cross, the local electric company, already powers the Eagle’s Nest building and the Mountain Top Express Lift, Chair 3, Cartin says.

Wind power, however, could potentially be used to run as many as eight chairlifts, Cartin says.

Vail Daily reporter Cliff Thompson contributed to this report.


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