Aspen ups the wind power ante

 ASPEN – The Aspen Skiing Co. has upped the ante. Previously it purchased 5 percent of its electricity in the form of shares from wind. Now, it has committed to getting 100 percent of its power from wind and other forms of noncarbon energy.

Pat O’Donnell, CEO of the Aspen Skiing Co., claimed it is the largest purchase of renewable energy ever by a U.S. ski area. Colorado’s Vail and California’s Sugar Bowl have also made large purchases of wind power.

It’s unclear precisely where Aspen’s wind power will come from. Following the skyrocketing prices of natural gas and other carbon fuels, electricity from wind is now comparable with electricity produced by burning coal. In some areas of Colorado, electricity from wind is sold out. Aspen is contracting with a Boulder-based broker of alternative energy to find supplies.

In effect, Aspen will pay a bit more for its electricity, which is expected to help expand the infrastructure of alternative energy. Aspen declined to divulge the extra cost it will be paying, or its total cost.

Meanwhile, down-valley in Glenwood Springs, city officials have also increased their investment in wind power. Currently, the city gets 4 percent of its power from wind turbines, the third highest percentage among some 2,000 municipal electric systems in the nation. The city of about 9,000 is going to double its share of wind energy, to 8 percent.

The town had hoped to delay its commitment, pending a study of electrical rates for consumers. However, the supplies of wholesale wind power are being tapped so rapidly that City Manager Jeff Heckel urged immediate action. He feared the city might be able to acquire more wind power if it didn’t act fast, reports the Glenwood Post Independent.

Still, wind remains more expensive than carbon-produced electricity. This move is expected to increase the city’s wholesale power cost by about 1 percent, or $45,000. But city officials believe that ultimately the wind power may be cheaper. “It will give us a hedge against some of the wildly fluctuating fossil fuel costs that we’ve been experiencing in the last year or two,” said Glenwood Mayor Bruce Christiansen.

Crested Butte fears return of mining

CRESTED BUTTE – Decades-old plans for mining molybdenum near Crested Butte are heating up once again. Prodding the renewed interest is the increased price for molybdenum, the mineral used as an alloy in steel and other industrial purposes. Prices sank for much of the 1980s and 1990s, hitting $2 a pound in 2000. But last year, prices soared to $40, although they have since settled to $25 a pound.

Phelps-Dodge, the giant mining company, let its ownership of the property on Mt. Emmons lapse in 2001, allowing acquisition by U.S. Energy. U.S. Energy officials met with representatives from Crested Butte and Mt. Crested Butte in late February to announce their plans to proceed with mining operations.

The extent of operations can only be guessed.The Crested Butte News reports that a former spokesperson for U.S. Energy had predicted a smaller mining operation than had been proposed in the 1970s. However, the Mt. Emmons ore deposit is believed to be one of the largest in the world.

Mayors of both Crested Butte and Mt. Crested Butte told U.S. Energy that a mine would be unacceptable.

Interest in skiing booms in China

VANCOUVER, B.C. – Intrawest is looking to add up to five ski resorts in China to its portfolio by autumn in anticipation of the Chinese boom in skiing. China recorded only 200,000 skier days at the century’s turn, but last year that number had grown to nearly 4 million, a twentyfold increase. The country’s’ first gold medal win in the Olympics, in men’s aerials, is also expected to boost interest in the sport.

The Vancouver Sun reports that Intrawest has studied 35 ski resorts in China and concluded that the market in China is ripe for expansion. Graham Kwan, vice president of Intrawest China, told the newspaper that Intrawest has developed “extremely good” relations with local governments and businesses in the Chinese provinces of Jilin and Heilongjiang.

Altogether, China has 200 ski areas, although some are merely single lifts located on the side of a road, Kwan said. Because Chinese skiers are mostly beginners and intermediates, the ski areas lack difficult terrain. He said Intrawest hopes to manage day ski areas in China that are smaller than the ski areas it operates in North America. “We could pull the trigger on three to five (resorts) in the next six months,” he added.

Builder takes couple to the cleaners

WHITEFISH, Mont. –The Whitefish Pilotreports what sounds like a nightmare for a Colorado couple who thought to build their dream home on Big Mountain, near the ski area of the same name. A building contractor heard of their plans, availed himself, and promised to deliver a 7,500-square-foot home for only $750,000.

That looked low by their reckoning, but they took him up on it. By the time the price had hit $4 million, they knew something was seriously wrong. In fact, he had been skimming money, buying a Hummer, 17 other vehicles, real estate and expensive jewelry. While the couple got a $3.1 million judgment against him in court, the Pilot notes that it’s quite another matter to collect the money. The contractor, meanwhile, has fled the Flathead Valley, where Whitefish is located.

James Brown remains in Steamboat

STEAMBOAT SPRINGS – An otherwise drab, conventional bridge across the Yampa River in Steamboat Springs will officially remain the James Brown Soul Center of the Universe Bridge, as it has been since 1993. That’s the year Steamboat Springs residents, in a dubious straw vote, chose the name to honor the famous singer.

That decision had been hotly contested, with an almost equal number of people favoring the simpler and more local name of Stockbridge, honoring its historical use for moving cattle and other livestock.The Steamboat Pilot recalls that some 26,300 ballots were cast in a town that then had only 10,000 people.

In 2004, after Brown was arrested on charges of domestic violence, the name was revisited, and more recently a group favoring the Stockbridge name had petitioned the city for a change. But rather than provoke division within the community, the group had fallen back to a call for a park near the bridge that would reflect Steamboat’s ranching heritage.

Composting backfires in Squamish

SQUAMISH, B.C. – Whistler has a stated goal of achieving zero waste, meaning that everything is to be recycled in some way. To achieve that goal, the town diverts much of its food waste to a composting facility located down-valley in the town of Squamish.

But neighbors, although patient souls, are pinching their noses. Squamish is telling the operator, Owen Carney, to get it fixed or move along. He spent $7.5 million in the operation, then another $1 million in trying to contain the odors, but would have to spend $3.5 million to move the operation.

Mayor Ian Sutherland tellsPique that townspeople support composting, but the problem must be solved or the facility moved. It takes food, biosolids and wood waste, turning it into compost that can then be used on lawns and gardens.

Hospital planned for the I-70

EAGLE – Big-box retailers are not the only thing popping up along the fast-growing I-70 corridor. On the heels of a new hospital and medical clinic opening in Frisco, something similar is planned to the west in Eagle.

The Vail Daily, located midway between Frisco and Eagle, reports that the new hospital will have 20 beds, with five of them dedicated to childbirth. Construction could begin within a year. The project is a partnership of the existing hospitals in Vail and Glenwood Springs.

Hard Rock lands in Copper Mountain

SUMMIT COUNTY – The name of the game at destination resorts is “flagship hotels.” Although Copper Mountain has been open since 1973, it has never had a nationally recognized hotel brand, aside possibly from Club Med. It soon will, if Hard Rock means anything. Intrawest, owner of Copper Mountain, is partnering with a four-star Hard Rock hotel, with construction to begin next year. This will be the first Hard Rock hotel in a mountain setting. As virtually every hotel being planned at a mountain resort, the 320 units will be condominiums that will look and feel and operate much like hotel rooms.

– compiled by Allen Best


In this week's issue...

January 25, 2024
Bagging it

State plastic bag ban is in full effect, but enforcement varies

January 26, 2024
Paper chase

The Sneer is back – and no we’re not talking about Billy Idol’s comeback tour.

January 11, 2024
High and dry

New state climate report projects continued warming, declining streamflows