Aspen Skiing Co., Alterra lobby for Xcel’s renewable energy plan

Scott Condon
The Aspen Times
Aspen Skiing Co. scrambled to make snow at Buttermilk for the Winter X Games after warm temperatures prevailed well into the season. The ski industry is facing challenges from climate change, according to Aspen Skiing Co.
Aspen Times file photo |

Aspen Skiing Co. is teaming with its new sister organization, Alterra Mountain Co., to support a proposal by Xcel Energy to close two coal-burning power plants in Colorado and shift to a significantly larger share of clean power.

Auden Schendler, Skico’s senior vice president of sustainability and community engagement, provided written testimony to the Colorado Public Utilities Commission this month on why Xcel’s proposal is important for the ski industry and a model for providing electricity on a warming planet. Schendler provided comments on behalf of Alterra and the winter sports athletes’ activist group Protect Our Winters.

“We’re trying to use our voice and our power to drive change to the entire energy grid,” Schendler said in an interview Tuesday. “We think that’s more important than just our own footprint.”

There is a chance he will be called before the PUC in February to provide oral testimony. The commission will likely vote in March on Xcel’s plan.

“Extrapolating from the experience of a few Colorado resorts, the impact of cancellations on ski industry revenue this year is already easily in the multiple tens of millions (of dollars).” — Skico’s Auden Schendler

If Xcel’s plan is approved, its share of power from solar and wind would rise from 29 percent currently to 55 percent in 2025, according to the company.

That new mix would “green up” Holy Cross Energy, which acquires a significant amount of its power from Xcel, Schendler said. Holy Cross is the provider for portions of the Roaring Fork Valley and the Interstate 70 corridor in western Colorado. Skico gets most of its electricity from Holy Cross. Getting power from renewable sources is a key for the energy-intensive company to reduce its carbon footprint, Schendler said.

In the bigger picture, Xcel’s plan could provide a model for major power providers across the U.S.

“We consider climate change to be a material threat to our businesses and the Colorado economy, and believe state leadership can lead to national and even global adoption of similar policy that will lead to a decline in global emissions,” Schendler said in his written testimony to the PUC.

Alterra is the company that the Crown family, 100 percent owners of Aspen Skiing Co., formed with KSL Capital Partners last year. It operates 13 North American resorts that typically record more than 7 million skier visits and $1.2 billion in revenues annually, according to Schendler’s testimony. Steamboat and Winter Park in Colorado are among Alterra’s holdings.

Aspen Skiing Co. is owned independently from Alterra, but officials with both companies said they would cooperate on issues of mutual interest when possible.

“It was tremendous that Alterra decided to partner with us on this because it more than doubled the power of the message,” Schendler said in an interview.

“For ski country, it’s a big step and it’s the kind of step that the ski industry should be taking,” he added.

In a written statement, Alterra Mountain Co. President and COO David Perry said, “While Alterra Mountain Company is a new company, our values are deeply rooted in the enduring commitment to preserve the mountain environments that we operate in. We believe in starting this venture on the right foot by supporting this businesslike effort in Colorado to increase clean energy, while ensuring stable energy prices. We will continue to use our collective voice to influence policy on key issues such as solutions to global climate change.”

In his comments to the utilities commission, Schendler wrote it is clear that climate change is already harming the ski industry and the mountain towns that depend on it.

“Warming threatens Colorado’s recreation economy and means snow-based businesses are harder and more expensive to operate,” he wrote. “Last spring, for example, Aspen hosted the World Cup ski racing finals in March and experienced summer temperatures that left lakes of water in the town park and required race staff to heavily salt the course to keep it frozen.”

Last winter it rained every month of ski season and Aspen’s winters are now 23 days shorter now than in 1980 when looking at frost-free days, according to data collected by the Aspen Global Change Institute, Schendler wrote.

A warming climate threatens to make ski resort operators unprofitable if the slopes open later each fall and close earlier each spring.

“The challenge for ski resorts is that most run in deficit until spring break, which is crucial because it delivers much of the profit for the season,” Schendler wrote. “Lose spring and your business fails.”

This winter’s below-average snowfall is providing a taste of how predicted climate changes will affect the workforce and economy, Schendler said. Colorado Ski Country USA, a state trade association, reported that its 23 members were cumulatively down 13 percent in skier visits through December compared to last season. Skico was down 20 percent through December after opening slopes late due to insufficient snow.

“Extrapolating from the experience of a few Colorado resorts, the impact of cancellations on ski industry revenue this year is already easily in the multiple tens of millions [of dollars],” Schendler testified in comments submitted to the PUC on Jan. 10.

So can Xcel’s switch to a greater portfolio of clean energy help win the battle against climate change?

“No, it’s not enough, but it’s a model for the world,” Schendler said. He noted that Colorado was a leader in regulating methane emissions released in oil and gas extraction. Leadership on renewable energy would be even more important “if it caught on with other states,” he said.

Schendler said he considers his lobbying for passage of Xcel’s plan “the most important thing I’m doing all year.”

Support Local Journalism

Support Local Journalism

Readers around Glenwood Springs and Garfield County make the Post Independent’s work possible. Your financial contribution supports our efforts to deliver quality, locally relevant journalism.

Now more than ever, your support is critical to help us keep our community informed about the evolving coronavirus pandemic and the impact it is having locally. Every contribution, however large or small, will make a difference.

Each donation will be used exclusively for the development and creation of increased news coverage.