Wind power still in the works for Vail |

Wind power still in the works for Vail

Vail Mountain studying weather wind turbines will reduce energy costs. Nicole Frey
Special to the DailyAn antique windmill stands in front of the turbine of a new windmill on the wind farm along the county line of Prowers and Baca counties south of Lamar, Colo., Thursday, June 10, 2004. (AP Photo/David Zalubowski)

VAIL – The ideas come quickly, but the execution always takes a little longer.Such is the case with the idea of installing wind turbines on Vail Mountain’s Ptarmigan Ridge to would produce power for the ski mountain. After announcing plans to build wind turbines in 2003, Vail Mountain has spent the last two years immersed in feasibility studies about the renewable energy source.Jen Brown, spokeswoman for Vail Mountain, said the company’s management group still has several tests to do before it will be satisfied that installing the turbines will be environmentally and economically sound. While Brown said Vail Mountain wouldn’t put a time limit on how long the tests will take, she estimated they may last 12 to 18 months.”We’ve gone though the scoping process with the Forest Service, but we’re still in the research phase,” she said. “We’re still looking at all of the possibilities.”The scoping process, which took place in 2003, included sending letters to all parties potentially impacted by the turbines, including business owners and residents in Vail.”The feedback was mostly positive,” said Forest Service district ranger Cal Wettstein. “From a big-picture perspective, installing renewable energy would be good for the global energy picture. Given the cost of energy these days and the electricity that we use here, it just makes sense for Vail Resorts to propose wind generation. It’s a pretty positive project, but it’s a little premature.”

Since proposing the turbines, Vail Mountain has erected a test tower and spent time studying the amount of wind and wind patterns on Ptarmigan Ridge, which is on the west end of the mountain.”They determined it was a real good site for wind generation,” Wettstein said. However, so much time has passed since the initial scoping process that it may have to be redone to determine if citizens and other stakeholders have additional concerns, Wettstein said. Environmental concernsOne issue Vail Mountain will study is the impact of the wind turbines on birds, such as hawks or eagles, which use the towers for perches and have been killed by the rotating turbine blades. According to Curry and Kerlinger, a consulting firm that advises the wind power industry on wildlife issues, the problem first emerged at the Altamont Pass Wind Resource Area in California. But, Vail Mountain officials said with newer turbine technology, the blades turn slowly enough to remove the threat to birds. “It’s said that birds have been hit, but there’s no documented data, so it’s hard to know exactly what the impact is,” said Matt Scherr, executive director of the Eagle Valley Alliance for Sustainability.

The visual impact of the towers is another issue for Vail Mountain. Some valley residents have said the four towers will mar the landscape, but others contended there are already so many towers on Vail Mountain that four extra wouldn’t make much of a difference. “What we want to look at is the environmental impacts,” Wettstein said. “I’m pretty confident that we’ll be able to do that. It’s looking promising, but I can’t predetermine what the outcome will be.”Dollars and senseVail Mountain also has spent the last two years looking at the economic side of installing wind turbines, including analyzing the tax incentives and financial partners that could make the project feasible. One source of financial aid may come from Holy Cross Energy’s WE CARE renewable energy program. Started a year ago, the WE CARE promises to help with installation costs of renewable energy programs if they meet certain criteria. “Largely, we have developed (the program) because it’s part of our carbon reduction strategy,” said Steve Casey, a member services supervisor for Holy Cross. “Various experts globally are concerned about greenhouse gasses and saying it’s contributing to global warming, so Holy Cross is trying to reduce carbon dioxide emissions. We are a strong supporter of wind power as a renewable generation option.” Although older wind power technology wasn’t very efficient, Scherr said, newer turbines promise to be a good investment.

“Now they’re very efficient,” Scherr said. “There’s a good (return on investment) and good savings.”Vail Mountain estimated the free energy generated will pay back the $400,000 initial installation expense in about 10 years. Spanning about half an acre of land, the turbines could be used to power about three ski lifts or supply power to other parts of the mountain.Brown said the company currently purchases wind power from Holy Cross and saw creating its own turbines as a way to further its commitment to the environment.”We are committed to energy conservation,” Brown said. “The installation of wind turbines is the next step of the conservation steps we currently take.” Staff Writer Nicole Frey can be reached at 949-0555, ext. 14621, or Vail, Colorado

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