Towns embrace alternative energy

VAIL – Ski towns and their down-valley siblings have been conspiring to be part of the great energy transformation.

Colorado Biz Magazine reports that town staffers in Vail have been trying to put together the pieces for a woody biomass plant that would generate heat for parts of Vail Village during winter and create electricity during summer.

The proposal has yet to go before the Town Council, and it seems to rely upon the hope of federal aid. But the larger story is that woody biomass – an ancient form of heating, but improved with new technology – has been getting lots of attention, owing in part to the many beetle-killed trees now in evidence in Colorado and elsewhere.

Experts tell the magazine that woody biomass has a rapid payback in places that burn propane, such as is the case in Fairplay and Oak Creek, two mountain towns with wood-burning projects. But it’s important, they say, to scale the projects to the appropriate size. In other words, wood must be available after the beetle-killed trees have been used or fallen and rotted. Wilderness designations and other protections plus the simple matter of steep slopes and inaccessibility make many forested areas unavailable for tree harvesting.

Still, enough wood exists to heat many buildings. The National Renewable Energy Laboratory, located in the suburbs west of Denver, has a 400,000-square-foot campus now being heated primarily by wood, most of it killed by beetles, reports the magazine.

One place where burning wood has already cut down the gas bill is in Gilpin County, where the gambling towns of Central City and Blackhawk are located. There, a public works garage has been heated since 2007.

Seeing that success, Gunnison County commissioners have been considering woody biomass heating for their new public works garage. As well, reports theCrested Butte News, wood remains a potential source of heat for a major new building at Western State College.

In Telluride, the town government is considering a mandatory offset program similar to that pioneered in Aspen in 2000, with later incarnations in Snowmass Village, Eagle County and other mountain towns. The concept assumes that large homes with outdoor spas, swimming pools or snowmelt systems have obligations to offset their so-called extravagant use with renewable energy systems or in-lieu fees. In Aspen, those fees have amounted to $8 million, which has been doled out to energy efficiency and renewable energy projects.

“It’s not that we all want to be ascetics and not have any fun and live in the dark, but we do need to be very aware of the choices we make in our personal lives,” said Kris Holstrum, executive director of the New Community Coalition, a nonprofit that formulated the proposed regulations in Telluride.

Mayors of Telluride and Mountain Village have also announced their goal – if they can get Town Council and community backing – of creating renewable energy sources sufficient to offset 100 percent of the electrical consumption in the Telluride area by 2020.

In Gypsum, west of Vail, town officials have applied for $1 million in federal stimulus money in hopes of replacing an aging water line. The new line, if approved, would include a hydroelectric component, capable of generating 65 kilowatts of electricity, roughly enough to offset the town’s recreation center, and possibly enough to meet the needs of the wastewater treatment plant.

Up valley at Edwards, a 5,890-square-foot home has been certified LEED gold, the second highest rating under the U.S. Green Building Council’s rating system. A HERS (Home Energy Rating System) analysis found the home will use 62 percent less energy than other homes of the same size built to the applicable building code.

In Avon, a deal has been struck between town officials and the Eagle River Water and Sanitation District to use heat generated in treatment of wastewater to melt snow on Main Street and heat the recreation center. Enabling the project was a $1.5 million state government grant.


Crime rate plummeting in Jackson

JACKSON, Wyo. – When the economy goes south, crime goes up. That’s the conventional wisdom borne out by statistics.

But exactly the opposite has happened in Jackson and Teton County during the last year. Criminal court filings have dropped 30 percent and jail bookings are down 24 percent, reports theJackson Hole News&Guide. As well, arrests for driving under the influence have dropped 24 percent year to date.

“This is not normal at all, not even for the off-season,” says Troy Sutton, the Teton County Jail administrator. “I haven’t seen anything like this in the 15 years I’ve been here.”

The jail can hold a maximum of 45 inmates. A year ago, officials were agitating for a jail expansion to hold 100. But in late May, the jail held only 16.

The newspaper’s Amanda H. Miller points out that last year produced the biggest spike in crime that officials had seen. At the time, there was conjecture that the increase was due to Teton County pushing past 20,000 in population, which one study has found is a threshold for increased crime. There was also talk about Jackson Hole “losing its soul.”

Evidence of Jackson Hole’s less frantic economy can be found in the newspaper’s classified advertisements. The rooms-to-rent listing has twice as many ads, and the other rentals are up three-fold.

Why less trouble in a down economy? The newspaper reported several theories, none of them compelling.


Train kills huge grizzly near Banff

BANFF, Alberta – A train recently hit and killed a 600-pound male grizzly bear that last year had withstood an attack for four days by the nine wolves of the Bow Valley.

“The bear was 599 pounds, and was a pretty big, dominant part of the grizzly bear population here, if not all of the ecosystem, and this is a real blow to everyone and to the bear population,” said Steve Michel, a human-wildlife conflict specialist for Banff National Park.

Trains have been identified as a major threat to the grizzly bears, which are believed to be at minimum levels of sustainability in Banff National Park. Since 2000, reports theRocky Mountain Outlook, eight grizzly bears – three of them reproducing females – have been killed along the railway that slices through the park. In addition, those bears had five cubs, who were believed to have also died.

The Canadian-Pacific Railway has been heavily criticized for allowing grain to fall off passing hopper cars, which in turn attracts the bears. A necropsy found no evidence the latest dead grizzly had been eating grain, but Jim Pissot of Defenders of Wildlife Canada, speculated that the bear may have been habituated to visit the tracks in search of grain.

Peter Dettling, also writing in theOutlook, related that he had witnessed the bear withstand an attack by the nine wolves in the Bow Valley wolf pack last year for four days. “I still feel admiration for him, mixed with deep regret, sadness, frustration and anger,” he writes.

Crested Butte completes energy plan

CRESTED BUTTE – At great length, an energy plan has been assembled for Crested Butte. Among other measures, the plan calls for government-sponsored audits of homes to identify ways to improve energy efficiency. Another would have a local organization, the Office of Resource Efficiency, collaborating with the school district to develop an energy efficiency curriculum.

But hold on, says Susan Parker, the town manager. Adopt this and the public will have expectations to follow through, she said. “I encourage you to really review this and have a plan on how to deal if the money is not available to implement the projects,” she added.

Alan Bernholtz, the mayor, does want to proceed. “I don’t want to just pay lip service to the idea of energy efficiency in Crested Butte,” he said at a recent meeting. “We have a chance to put our lips to the pavement and actually do something. This is a great thing for the community. It is an energy road map to follow.”


Steamboat scuttles gondola plan

STEAMBOAT SPRINGS – Intrawest, owner and operator of the Steamboat Ski Area, has declined to fund a share of the $7 million high-speed people-mover gondola that had been planned. The base-area developer, Resort Ventures West, instead plans to build a slower-pulse gondola, which has a cost of $3 million.

“We’re just a victim of the current economic climate,” Chris Diamond, president of the ski area, told theSteamboat Pilot & Today.

The base-area project, Wildhorse Meadows, is located a mile or two from the more traditional ski area base. The high-speed gondola had been expected to eliminate the necessity for skiers to take shuttle buses. The slower gondola will have insufficient capacity to replace the shuttle buses.

– Allen Best


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