Wednesday, February 22, 2012

More solar power in Sun Valley?

Regional energy plan suggests changes to resort, infrastructure

Express Staff Writer

A construction worker from Sagebrush Solar works to complete installation of solar thermal panels on the Blaine County Public Safety Facility in Hailey. Solar panels like these could become a more common sight if city and county leaders take recommendations from a group of nonprofit energy consultants. Photo by David N. Seelig

A report compiled by energy consultants New Energy Cities states that within three years, the Wood River Valley could be well on its way to having a more efficient resort, electric public transportation vehicles and more pedestrian-friendly streets.

New Energy Cities, a nonprofit group based in Seattle, developed the report at the request of Ketchum's Environmental Resource Center following an energy summit in August. At the time, acting Director Lisa Huttinger said the group could help the community turn ideas into reality.

"Ideas are good, but now we need some action," she said.

The report is all about action, laying out a three-year timeline during which members of the community—including the cities of Ketchum, Sun Valley, Hailey, Bellevue, Carey and Fairfield as well as Blaine and Camas counties—will work together to develop projects such as increasing solar power.

One of the main projects the group recommended was to "solarize Sun Valley." The report states that this new type of energy has a special parallel with the original Sun Valley tagline—"Winter sports under a summer sun."

"Seventy-five years ago, the image of a skier basking in the sunshine ignited tourism," the report states. "What better way to attract the next generation of outdoor enthusiasts than to solarize the Wood River Valley region, home to Sun Valley?"

The report also recommends that Sun Valley Resort implement a "green hospitality" program, which would involve reducing the resort's carbon footprint and waste. The resort itself was given eight out of 14 possible points in energy efficiency by the Ski Area Citizen's Coalition, a group of conservation organizations that grade ski areas on environmental friendliness.

The report suggested switching all resort lightbulbs to high-efficiency bulbs, taking measures to reduce energy use in irrigating the golf course, using electric resort shuttles and using more efficient snowmaking equipment.

Sun Valley Co. spokesman Jack Sibbach declined to comment on the report's recommendations, saying they would have to be discussed in a series of staff meetings before any changes are made. Still, he said the resort is "constantly" improving its energy efficiency.

"[Energy efficiency] is a constant battle," he said. "Things are changing constantly."

The report notes efficiency measures that have already taken place, such as installing solar panels at the Blaine County Public Safety Facility in Hailey and the more efficient snowmaking processes on Bald Mountain.

Community members are set to form a task force in the near future, headed by the ERC, to determine which projects are achievable. The task force's final report is due out in July.

Katherine Wutz:

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