Ski Resort Tries Large-Scale Renewable Energy

skigreenguideThe Associated Press reports a model of large-scale renewable energy production at Massachusetts’ Jimmy Peak Ski Resort. The installation of Jimmy’s 386-foot, $3.9 million turbine named “Zephyr” cut the resorts electricity costs by $200,000 last year — the first full year the turbine was operational. In contrast to simply buying renewable energy credits to offset greenhouse gas emissions, the turbine represents a green technology that can provide needed electrical power—and an immediate payoff.

During the ski season the turbine fulfills half of Jimmy Peak’s electrical demand and packback is estimated to be 7 to 8 years. Jimmy’s experience with wind energy may provide the ski industry with a profit-driven model for finding technologies that offer more than typical industry green marketing hype.

Nevertheless, the 1.5 megawatt turbine received some serious taxpayer support. A renewable energy grant from the Massachusetts Technology Collaborative for $582,000 was used for all of the design and purchase of the turbine. Jimmy also used federal tax rebates as well as Renewable Energy Credits to help support the project.

Wind energy production is certainly a growing industry. According to the US Department of Energy, the U.S. wind energy industry invested approximately $9 billion in new generating capacity in 2007, and has experienced a 30 percent annual growth rate in the last 5 years. As outlined in David Biello’s Scientific American article, China’s current five-year plan calls for renewables—wind, solar, biogas and hydro power—to account for 10 percent of the country’s energy consumption by 2010 (up from 7.5 percent in 2005, the last year of the last five-year plan) and 15 percent by 2020. All to reduce Chinese dependence on—and the pollution from—burning coal.

The U.S. currently gets just 7 percent of its energy from renewable resources, of which wind makes up just 5 percent. Denmark, a world leader in wind generation, gets roughly 20 percent of its power from wind turbines. Lower-carbon renewable energy sources are needed if the ski industry is to turn a profits while confronting the prospects of snow retreating to higher altitudes, later snowfalls, and earlier snow melts as indicated in a recent University of Washington study.