Atmosphere

Bright Idea

Move over, Xcel: Aspen Skiing Company is entering the energy business.

August 2008

Think your utility bills are high? In 2006, Aspen Skiing Company (ASC) spent a stunning $4.5 million to power its chairlifts, snowmakers, and on-mountain facilities—and that was before Xcel Energy announced it was raising energy prices 38 percent. The resort's gluttonous fuel habit made its executives shiver: Not only does ASC's growing carbon footprint counter the resort's environmental principles, but soaring fuel costs were also biting into the bottom line. So resort officials came up with a novel solution: fire up a massive solar array and produce their own energy.

Upon its July completion, the half-acre solar array—a total of 37,800 linked photovoltaic cells—became the largest in Western Colorado, producing 200,000 kilowatt hours annually, enough to power 20 to 25 homes for a year. Colorado Rocky Mountain School in Carbondale, which is leasing the land to ASC, purchases a portion of that output, and its students get a hands-on lesson in sustainable energy. To further offset its $1 million investment, ASC sells the remaining wattage to Xcel, sustainably supplying a portion of Carbondale's electricity.

ASC isn't the first business to enter the renewable energy game. Google, for example, has installed enough solar panels to supply 30 percent of the electricity used at its Mountain View, California, headquarters. Closer to home, ski resorts such as Crested Butte, Copper Mountain, Vail, and Keystone have purchased wind-energy credits. But ASC—which also purchases wind credits—is taking the renewable revolution a step further by seeing if a notoriously energy-dependent business can battle rising prices while inching its way off the grid.

"It's clear to everyone that utility prices are going nowhere but up," says Auden Schendler, ASC's executive director of sustainability. "So businesses are looking to secure stable energy prices through renewables." In fact, the solar array is just ASC's first step into large-scale renewable energy production. The company is also examining the viability of building a hydroelectric plant on the Colorado River that could provide half the resort's energy needs. If purchasing renewable energy credits is good, producing renewable energy might be even better.

By the Numbers: Snow Removal

11 Number of Colorado ski resorts offsetting their energy use with wind power credits

220,000,000 Amount of kilowatts Aspen Ski Company is producing with new solar array

241,000,000 Pounds of carbon dioxide not released into the atmosphere, as a result of the wind power credits

33,000 Number of cars that would need to be removed from the highway for the same carbon dioxide savings