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Aspen Skiing explores wind power

Several years ago the Aspen Skiing Co. examined its four ski mountains and concluded that winds on top are just too gusty for wind turbines. Wind is best for producing electricity when it’s strong but steady.

But turbines are now strong enough to withstand blasts of 120 mph. If gusts that are even stronger arrive, new designs allow blades to fold.

And so a 165-foot tower with a propeller is soon to be erected atop Snowmass, to better measure the wind potential there. Preliminary computer runs suggest a pot of gold, enough wind to sufficiently meet two-thirds of electrical demand at Aspen’s four ski areas, plus miscellaneous lodging and other properties.

If the tests prove positive, Aspen Skiing will install three 1.7-megawatt turbines. That’s 5.1 megawatts altogether.

Estimated return on investment is 7.5 to 8 years – after which it’s mostly free energy, with a potential savings to Aspen of $26 million over the next 20 years.

The idea for the wind turbines came partly from the U.S. Forest Service, which is now trying to find places suitable for renewable energy. At first, the thinking was of small turbines.

But an engineer from the National Renewable Energy Lab got the team thinking bigger and taller. “If there’s no reason not to go big, then go big,” said Otto Von Geet.

Aside from the technical feasibility, the major issue is public acceptance. Jim Stark, A U.S. Forest Service snow ranger who proposed the wind turbines in Aspen, predicts broad acceptance. “It’s here and it’s now. It’s the right time and the right place,” says Stark.

Even in 2002, people weren’t ready for wind turbines at ski areas. But because of climate change and our dependence on foreign oil, the idea of 300-foot-tall towers and blades on the edge of the Maroon Bells-Snowmass Wilderness is being quietly accepted, he reports.

Auden Schendler, the Aspen Skiing Co.’s director of community and environmental responsibility, said his company is interested. “We’re always interested in what’s real, instead of offsets and credits.”

Stark believes ski areas are ideal places for wind turbines. Good roads are needed to high locations, and ski areas have them. Power lines are also needed, and once again, ski areas have them.

One other U.S. ski area, Massachusetts’ Jiminy Peak, began operation of a $3.9 million wind turbine last fall. The turbine, with its blade, reaches a height of 386 feet. During its first winter of operations, it generated 33 percent of the electricity needed at Jiminy

The Durango Telegraph

3 July 2008