How can these ski communities achieve 100% renewables?

Squaw Valley wants to be able to say that 100 percent of its energy is coming from renewables, possibly even by the end of this year. Photo/Allen Best

Ski areas and mountain towns try to push shift toward renewable energy

by Allen Best

TRUCKEE, Calif. – Squaw Valley and Alpine Meadows, now part of the Alterra Mountain Co., have great ambitions. They want to leap into energy systems of the future, achieving 100 percent renewable energy by as early as December.

Working with Liberty Utilities, Squaw and Alpine are investigating new renewable energy generation but also energy storage for use in Olympic Valley, as the base area is called. Squaw was a prime venue for the 1960 Winter Olympics.

Ramped-up energy efficiency is also part of the program.

“We take accountability for our company’s contribution to carbon dioxide, hence our longstanding and unyielding internal focus on reducing our overall footprint,” said Andy Wirth, president and chief operating officer.

Liberty Utilities is also under pressure from South Lake Tahoe, the town about an hour away at the base of Heavenly, to advance renewable energy. The town has a goal of 100 percent renewable generation.

Liberty Utilities has a hard push. It’s at 25 percent renewables now.

In Colorado, Summit County this week joined its largest town, Breckenridge, in calling for 100 percent renewable. The county resolution calls for this goal to be achieved by 2035.

Xcel Energy, supplier of most of Summit County, has a longs ways to go, even if it succeeds in early retirement of two existing coal plants, called Comanche I and II, as it proposes. That would push it to 55 percent, from 29 percent today.

Comanche generating units 1, 2 and, indicated by plain smokestack, 3. Photo/Allen Best

The two units generate electricity for several ski areas, including the four in Summit County (Breckenridge, Keystone, Copper Mountain and Arapahoe Basin) plus Steamboat. Holy Cross Energy also gets electricity from Xcel, which is then used to supply Vail and Beaver Creek plus the four ski areas owned by the Aspen Skiing Co., and also Sunlight.

The Aspen Skiing Co. and Alterra together entered testimony in support of the early retirements. In his testimony, Auden Schendler of the Aspen Skiing Co. pointed out that rained every month of ski season last year. He also noted a report by the Aspen Global Change Institute that Aspen now has 23 fewer frost-free days than in 1980.

Shortening winters, he testified, threatens the business model for ski resorts. “Most run in deficit until spring break, which is crucial because it delivers much of the profit for the season,” he wrote. “Lose spring and your business fails.”

Most remarkable about the Colorado story is what happened when Xcel asked for proposals last year. The prices of renewable energy were low, but more surprising were the prices of renewables coupled with energy storage. Low-priced storage eliminates the problem of intermittency found with wind and solar. That makes goals of 100 percent renewables more realistic.

But even if the two coal plants are closed by 2025, as is now proposed, both Vail and Aspen lifts would continue to be powered by so called “dirty” electricity. Holy Cross Energy, a supplier to both, owns a part of a new generating station, Comanche III, which began operations in 2010.

Bryan Hannegan, chief executive of Holy Cross, points out that it has perhaps the best emissions reducing technology of any coal plant in the United States. It’s the newest power plant in the country.

Allen Best