Instead of carping about making snow in summer, we need a price on carbon
by Allen Best
Fingers have been wagged this summer about snowmaking at California’s Boreal Mountain Resort. Conventional snowmaking requires a temperature of 28 degrees or colder, depending upon the dew point. With this new technology, called Snowfactory, temperature is not an impediment. It got up to 91 degrees at Boreal, located at the crest of the Sierra Nevada, between Sacramento and Reno, but still they made snow in July.
Just because they could, should they? And more importantly, who decides what is extravagant use of energy? The case illustrates why, rather than finger pointing at what some consider wanton waste of energy, we need a price on carbon. Let the market sort out what is justified use of energy while also adding motivation for changes to reduce climate changing atmospheric pollution.
Boreal’s demonstration of the Snowfactory technology was the first in North American and anywhere during summer. The technology mimics the way that ice is made in the door of your refrigerator. This is not powder snow. The flakes are dense and have little moisture. “Natural snow, when the sun hits it, melts very quickly,” says Robin Smith of TechnoAlpin, the Italian company that created the new technology. “Machine-made snow (as is used in winter) is much more dense and it lasts 10 times longer than natural snow. What comes out of Snowfactory is even more durable yet, maybe by a factor of two to three.”
Still, Smith sees few applications for Snowfactory. Boreal used the technology to host ski and snowboard camps geared toward adolescents aspiring to become competitors. The camps ended Aug. 8. A winter Nordic course in New York City’s Central Park, where neither snow nor cold are reliable, is another possible application.
Winter or summer, this new technology gobbles as much electricity as four conventional snowmaking guns such as you might see on a ski slope in December while producing less.
In the ski world, there was pushback. One climate change activist described the Boreal snowmaking adventure as a raised “middle finger” against efforts to tamp down greenhouse gas emissions. In this view, snowmaking has its time – but only in winter.
Where do you draw the line? Ski resorts hoping for opening-day bragging rights begin blasting snow onto slopes in September. Should snowmaking not be allowed until Halloween? Or Thanksgiving? In the old, old days of skiing, nobody truly expected snow until Christmas. Modern skiing depends heavily on energy, including fossil fuels.
But why pick on ski areas? Travel by jet is quick, but the carbon footprint is the same as if you drive the same distance. Is Bill McKibben justified in flying, as he did in April, to Colorado to speechify against oil-and-gas drilling before jetting to Los Angeles to deliver the same message? When does a house become a piggish mansion? Do you really need a supersized pickup truck? Who decides what is wasteful, what is essential?
We need a price on carbon instead of finger-wagging and carbon-scolding. We we need a broad policy that reflects the risk to our climate stability of greenhouse gas emissions. A price on carbon levied at the point of production would be collected by the federal government. A group called Citizens’ Climate Lobby advocates that revenues from what it calls “fees” be offset by reduced income and other taxes. Others argue for partial allocation of revenues to develop improved renewable energy, advance energy efficiency, or even find ways to use fossil fuels that don’t produce atmospheric pollution
The marketplace needs a clear signal. Economists prefer a tax or fee upward of $50 per ton of emissions of carbon dioxide. But the tax does not micromanage. It tells the marketplace: Here’s the problem, now you figure out the solution. It does not scold or wag accusatory fingers. It merely assigns a cost and encourages us to improve technologies, modify business models, and alter our individual choices.