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Riding the winds of change

The U.S. winter tourism and ski industry has already lost $1 billion due to climate change, according to a report released last December by the nonprofit groups Protect Our Winters and Natural Resources Defense Council.

But as overall warmer winters and diminishing snowpack threaten ski areas while climate change continues, two local ski spots have taken proactive steps to cut their greenhouse gas emissions.

If you’ve ever skied at Jiminy Peak, then you’ve probably caught sight of Zephyr, the 1.5-megawatt wind turbine on the back, west-facing slope. The 386-foot-tall structure generates about 4.6 million kilowatt-hours of electricity annually, eliminating 7.1 million pounds of CO2 emissions produced from conventional fossil fuel electricity.

The wind energy meets about one-third of Jiminy’s annual electrical demand, but during the winter, when wind is strongest, it provides up to half of the ski resort’s electricity.

The Zephyr turbine was installed in the summer of 2007 and cost about $4 million. Jiminy received a $582,000 grant from the Massachusetts Technology Collaborative that went towards the design and purchase of the turbine. Federal tax rebates and Renewable Energy Credits also helped offset the costs.

The expected payback time was seven to eight years, and the turbine is currently in its sixth year of operation, so in another year or two, the energy savings from the turbine will have equaled the initial cost.

The opportunity for Jiminy to save on its electric bill was actually the primary incentive for pursuing this wind project. According to Jim Van Dyke, Jiminy’s vice president of sustainability, the resort’s electrical costs went up by 50 percent during the early 2000s, so they started looking into alternative energy options as a cost-cutting measure.

“The goal was to reduce our operating costs,” said Mr. Van Dyke.

Any additional energy the turbine produces that is not used by Jiminy gets sold back into the electric grid, allowing the ski area to profit from its renewable energy venture.

There is also evidence suggesting Zephyr has a positive impact on Jiminy’s customer base. According to Mr. Van Dyke, results from a resort survey indicated 23 percent of respondents answered “yes” to the question of whether or not the wind turbine had some impact on your decision to come to Jiminy.

The wind turbine “has been a home run for Jiminy in many ways,” said Mr. Van Dyke, with “benefits on our checkbook, benefits on the environment, and benefits on our guests.”

Jiminy was awarded the Golden Eagle Award in 2008 from Clif Bar and the National Ski Areas Association for Overall Environmental Excellence for the wind turbine. It also holds the distinction of being the first ski resort in North America to install a wind turbine, and now others are following suit.

Berkshire East, located in Charlemont, Mass., now has a 900 kilowatt-hour wind turbine that provides 100 percent of the ski area’s annual electrical need. With this wind turbine, Berkshire East has become the first ski area in the country to produce 100 percent of its electricity from an on-site renewable energy source.

Brothers Jim and John Schaefer, co-owners of Berkshire East, described the wind turbine as a “long term physical hedge” intended to “protect their company from rising power prices.”

With the controversy surrounding the Vermont Yankee nuclear plant, and with environmental activists pushing to shut down area coal plants, the Schaefers realized their relatively small ski area would likely be slammed with higher electric prices.

“For a business that relies on a lot of electricity, we can’t take that risk,” explained Jim Schaefer.

The $3 million, 277-foot-tall turbine generates about 2.2 million kilowatt-hours of electricity each year. But since wind power is intermittent by nature, the Schaefers added a 500 kW solar array off the top of the mountain to bolster their renewable energy portfolio.

By producing its own power, Berkshire East has chosen energy independence – a financially-driven decision that also happens to be environmentally beneficial.

As Jim Schaefer explained, “For us, it’s a tactic to prevent our company from going out of business, as well as to provide clean power.”

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Posted by on February 21, 2013. Filed under Community News,Featured,News. You can follow any responses to this entry through the RSS 2.0. You can leave a response or trackback to this entry
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