Wednesday, July 23, 2008

Mountain Town News


California ski area plans to erect wind turbines

KIRKWOOD MOUNTAIN, Calif. -- California's Kirkwood Mountain Resort is hoping for a major installation of wind turbines.

Plans call for an array of 20 turbines that altogether will be able to deliver 600 kilowatt hours daily. Later, if all goes as planned, the blades on the turbines will be retrofitted, allowing the turbines to convert more wind into electricity, 2 megawatts altogether.

In comparison, Massachusetts Jiminy Peak last year installed just one turbine. It is, however, much taller, and produces 1.5 megawatts of power.

Jiminy's turbine has a maximum height of 375 feet, but is below the summit. Those at Kirkwood would also be hidden somewhat, and would be much shorter, 100 feet high.

Kirkwood's situation is unusual. It is off the electrical grid that connects most of North America. Instead, electricity is produced by burning diesel. As such, the wind turbines are competing against high-priced fuel instead of the more difficult market of coal-fired electricity.

Reno-based Synergy Power Corp. is the developer and is to sell the power to Kirkwood. The area has strong winds year round, says Synergy vice president Greg Jones, a skier who grew up cutting turns at Kirkwood. He told Mountain Town News that the turbines operate at an optimal performance of not quite 10 mph.

Higher on the mountain, winds can sometimes be ferocious -- twice last season reaching 190 mph. In such blasts, blades on the turbines designed by Synergy can lie back, parallel to the ground.

Kirkwood officials claim they will be able to eliminate fossil fuel generation for all but four months a year. "We could go almost eight months carbon-free as a resort community with 600 to 700 residents," chief executive Dave Likins told the Sacramento Bee.

Kirkwood has signed a deal with a California company to improve the energy efficiency of that power plant, to capture waste heat.

Wind turbines are also being studied at Snowmass and Vail.

Aspen drilling wells to seek subterranean heat

ASPEN, Colo. -- You go deep enough underground, even in places blanketed by snow half the year, and the rocks get hot. The question is how near the surface. In Aspen, there is at least anecdotal evidence to suggest the heat can be found relatively close to the surface.

Why this matters is that Aspen dearly would love to further shrink its carbon footprint. The community heats its homes and businesses primarily by burning natural gas. Natural gas releases half the carbon dioxide for a given amount of energy as compared to coal, but that's still a large carbon footprint.

Anecdotal evidence of underground heat and water is found in the testimony of miners who favored the 100 degree temperatures during winter months found at the bottom of the Smuggler Mine.

To further test the hypothesis of underground heat, Aspen may drill down as much as 3,000 feet below ground. Phil Overeynder, Aspen's public works director, suggests there may be enough heat available to heat up to one million of square feet of commercial space and at costs at least comparable to natural gas.

The Aspen City Council is enthusiastic, but city officials say that more tests are necessary before they're willing to commit to the test drilling. Estimated costs of moving forward are estimated at $1 million.

One Colorado town, Pagosa Springs, already taps hot water found near the surface for heating of buildings. As well, a greenhouse is heated at Mt. Princeton Hot Springs.

Ski areas moaning about H-2B caps

LAKE TAHOE, Calif. -- Ski area operators are describing labor issues with the sort of language usually described for drought.

The specific source of anxiety, reports the Reno Gazette-Journal, is the cap on H-2B visas, which was reached last October. Ski resorts recently learned that the U.S. government will reject all additional applications unless Congress removes the quota.

"It's kind of a nightmare for us," said Ed Youmans, general manager of Diamond Peak, a ski resort at Incline Village.

Bob Roberts, executive director of the California Ski Industry Association, said the cap could bar 200 of the 1,500 to 2,000 foreign workers at California resorts. As well, the cap affects snowmaking experts, ski patrollers, and food-and- beverage workers.

Intrawest planning free baggage into Steamboat

STEAMBOAT SPRINGS, Colo. -- Deep in the heat of summer, the marketing team for the Intrawest ski resorts is at work in Steamboat Springs, plotting out how to confront a weak economy and rising oil prices that have made flying more expensive.

One plan being rolled out to flights to and from Steamboat is a promotion in which kids fly free, and so do bags.

"Our mechanism is basically to be giving people a card precharged with that amount of money to take care of their bags at check-in," Andy Wirth, Intrawest's vice president for marketing, told The Steamboat Pilot & Today. "American Express has given us a very smooth mechanism for this."

If the deal works well during the first 45 to 60 days of operation, the baggage promotion could expand to other Intrawest resorts, Wirth said.

"The game's won or lost in spring or summer," Wirth told the newspaper. "Even though it's 85 degrees outside, we're very much in the heat of battle for the dead of winter."

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