Turbines might crown the Cirque in Snowmass
ASPEN, Colorado ” The U.S. Forest Service is considering installing three wind turbines on top of the Cirque at Snowmass Ski Area to generate renewable energy.
And because the Aspen Skiing Co. uses the land, it will partner with the Forest Service in exploring whether the idea carries enough wind.
Within the next month, a 33-foot tower with a propeller will be set up at the Cirque to measure wind speeds to determine if there is too much wind for turbines to be installed permanently, said Jim Stark, winter sports coordinator for the White River National Forest.
If it is feasible and the public approves the concept, three 1.7-megawatt turbines would be installed, which would generate two-thirds of Skico’s energy needs, said Auden Schendler, executive director of sustainability for Skico.
“It’s the real deal,” he said. “We’re always interested in what’s real instead of offsets and credits.”
The impetus for the idea was spurred by the White River National Forest, which has a mandate to generate a certain percentage of renewable power in future years. Skico was approached with the turbine idea in the last six months, Schendler said.
“In a broad view you have to look at the energy supply,” he said. “This represents a change in the government and how they are approaching it.”
Stark said the idea was born out of a recent environmental advisory meeting with local experts.
“Everyone talks about doing something but nothing gets done and I think the Skico probably thought it is something the Forest Service wouldn’t ever do,” Stark said, adding that an official from the National Renewable Energy Lab toured the Cirque area and told him that the site was perfect for high-powered wind turbines.
And while an initial wildlife analysis has been done and there appears to be minimal impact, there are other impacts that will be created by the turbines, which would be about 190-feet tall.
“This would be a visual impact, but we have to ask ourselves what we are willing to consider as a community,” Schendler said, adding that coal produces harmful materials in people’s bloodstreams but because the production of it is out of sight and out of mind, the public is not as concerned as it should be. In comparison, wind turbines have much less of an impact.
“Are we willing to see these as beautiful? I am,” he said.
Stark said there’s fear from some community members that the Forest Service will install more wind turbines on public land. But Stark said the areas that make the most sense for turbines are ridgelines, which easily are accessed by ski areas because they have roads and power lines for installation.
“I don’t think people or the community are ready for a wind farm,” Stark said.
Although the planning is in the preliminary stages, the first turbine would be located about 200 yards above the Big Burn chairlift. The next two would be located above the first, with about 200 yards in between each, Stark said.
If the public signs off on the turbines, they could be operational by 2011, Stark said.
Beyond the environmental benefits of wind turbines, installing them and generating renewable power is likely a good business move because it will lock the Skico into a low energy rate.
“You can think of it as a business play,” Schendler said.
Stark said if the Skico were to purchase all three turbines, it would break even with its investment within eight years and recoup $26 million in energy savings within 20 years.
“It makes financial sense for them,” he said.
Skico wouldn’t be the first ski resort to harness wind energy for its power supply.
Jiminy Peak in Massachusetts installed one for both environmental and business reasons. It was the first mountain resort in North America to make the move and was prompted by a 50 percent increase in power costs.
Wind power provides Jiminy with significant annual stabilization of electricity costs and will allow the resort to project those costs 25 years into the future, ski area officials said.
The most important economic factor for Jiminy is that the wind project allows the resort to stabilize one-third of its energy costs 25 years into the future.
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