‘Robin Hood’ lends hand in Vail

EAGLE COUNTY – Solar collectors are becoming more common in Eagle County, partly the result of a so-called Robin Hood program.

That program, modeled on an older program developed in Aspen and Pitkin County, charges homeowners who want to put in snowmelt systems of more than 200 square feet. Homeowners have the option of installing their own renewable energy systems or to pay an in-lieu fee of $16 per square foot.

Homeowners in Beaver Creek, Cordillera and other high-end residential areas of unincorporated Eagle County paid more than $200,000 last year, the first full year of operation for the program. This year the program is expected to take in $150,000.

The money, in turn, is offered to local homeowners to defray the cost of installing solar hot water systems or photovoltaic. The county pays up to 50 percent of the cost of a hot-water generating system, up to $4,000 per household. As well, the rebates of $2 per watt of generating capacity are paid for photovoltaic systems, which produce electricity.

“While we recommend conservation measures like compact fluorescent bulbs, efficient appliances, improving insulation and sealing leaks as a first step, there has never been a better time to take the next step and invest in solar power for your home,” said Adam Palmer, the green building specialist for Eagle County.

So far, $72,000 has been paid out in rebates to 22 homeowners for solar systems.

The financial package is especially attractive in the Minturn and Red Cliff communities, located south of Vail. Those areas are serviced by Xcel Energy, which is now offering $3.50 per watt of installed capacity in rebates. That, with the Eagle County rebates, gives homeowners of smaller systems of 2 kilowatts or less $5.50 per kilowatt. Combined with federal tax credits, that reduces the payback to 13 years at current energy prices.

New Revelstoke ski resort struggling

REVELSTOKE, B.C. – Financial troubles are slowing work at Revelstoke Mountain Resort, a major new ski area that opened last year. While the details are still being sorted out, marketing director Ashley Tait told theRevelstoke Times Review that the Nelson Lodge is still to be completed, but the timing has shifted. Some staff members have been shed.

Control of the project has been assumed by the Northland Properties Group, a Vancouver, B.C.-based company that invested a reported $10 million into the project a year ago. Previous control of the project had been held by Don Simpson, a Denver-based developer of housing.

“What you need to know is that we were overspent and in a very tough position,” Rod Kesleer, chief operating officer, told the Revelstoke City Council at an Oct. 27 meeting.

At Canmore, meanwhile, the $135 million Solar Resort & Spa has gone into receivership. Construction had stopped in September after K2 Developments was unable to secure the final $3 million in financing. Of the 214 units, 50 remained for sale, sources told the Rocky Mountain Outlook.

Vail sends idling rigs down valley

VAIL – When Interstate 70 across Vail Pass closes because of stormy weather, as occurred 43 times last year, it can be hard to find a place to park a truck in Vail. There just isn’t much room, plus that means a lot of idling diesel engines in one place – not much fun for neighbors out for a stroll.

To reduce the congestion, Colorado transportation officials have come up with a strategy. First, truckers driving from the west will be alerted to conditions more frequently. Some $3 million has been spent to install 14 variable-message signs.

Those signs will tell truckers of what lies ahead – and what does not. In other words, they will be advised to snag parking spaces well away from the foot of the pass, even as far away as Dotsero and Gypsum, about 50 miles away. There will be 410 parking spaces for trucks along highways and frontage roads in this more distant location.

Climax Mine on course to reopening

LEADVILLE – The world’s roiling economy has resulted in falling prices for metals, but mine operator Freeport-McMoRan says that it still plans to reopen its molybdenum mine between Leadville and Copper Mountain in 2010. The work is “continuing on schedule,” company official Eric Kinneberg toldThe Leadville Chronicle.

After taking a hard and extended look at the world molybdenum market, the company in 2007 announced plans to reopen the Climax Mine, located at Fremont Pass. The company is spending $500 million in renovations, which will make mining operations more efficient.

The reopened mine is to employ 350 people. More than 3,000 worked there at peak productions in about 1980 – shortly before plummeting molybdenum prices resulted in the mine being closed.

Aspen school earns LEED certification

ASPEN – Gold LEED (Leadership in Energy and Environmental Design) certification has been awarded to the Aspen Middle School. It is believed to be the first school in Colorado to get the gold certification, the third highest of four certifications in the LEED program.

To get this certification, explainsThe Aspen Times, the building has been designed to use 50 percent less energy than its predecessor. This is predicted to save $200,000 in energy costs each year. The one-time upfront costs were calculated at $590,000, or about 2 percent of the total construction cost of $23.5 million.

The new school has lights that turn off automatically when people aren’t in the room, and it also has solar collectors.

A nonprofit, the Gore Range Science School, is reported to be planning a campus in Avon that would achieve a platinum LEED certification, the highest level.

Town council says ‘no’ to clotheslines

CANMORE, Alberta – TheRocky Mountain Outlook accuses the Canmore Council of getting “their knickers a bit knotted.” One council member had wanted to allow outdoor clothes lines in a new condo project. Other council members disagreed, arguing that it is an aesthetic issue – “as if somehow property values would plunge should the neighbor’s unmentionables get a proper airing,” said the newspaper in an editorial.

“Rather than discouraging the use of outdoor drying, Canmore should be encouraging such energy saving measures – infinitely cheaper than and just as effective as such things as solar panels and hybrid cards,” opined the newspaper.

One U.S. organization calculates that clothes dryers account for 6 percent of all electricity consumed by U.S. households, behind only refrigerators and lighting. “Cumulatively, there would be a heck of a lot less coal burned and rivers dammed to produce power if we all just stopped tumbling our clothes,” said the Outlook.

As well, it added parenthetically, imports from China could be significantly reduced as well, as the cheaply made clothing gets rapidly chewed to bits in clothes dryers.

Utah ski connections gain ground

PARK CITY, Utah – The idea of connecting ski areas of the Wasatch Range is being talked about in Utah once again. The concept has been around for awhile, because of the proximity of the ski hills. Park City has three ski areas, and relatively close, but on the other side of the range, are Alta, Brighton, Snowbird and Solitude. ThePark Record says that Gov. John Huntsman supports the interconnections, saying it will make Utah a more attractive skiing destination while also possibly reducing car traffic. However, he does not support spending governmet fund to achieve this.

County not sure of cloud-seeding

GUNNISON – After the 2002 drought, Gunnison County found religion. The next winter, and every winter thereafter, it has donated to a cloud-seeding effort. But this year, with revenues likely to be flat or decline, local officials are more hesitant. With cloud-seeding season drawing near, reports theCrested Butte News, the best they could offer Utah-based cloud-seeder Don Griffith is a “maybe.” The cost to the county and other Crested Butte-area organizations would be $100,000.

– Allen Best