Telluride tackles energy efficiency

TELLURIDE – Telluride in the last decade has twice taken very ambitious vows to reduce its carbon footprint as a community. Now, it’s tackling the hard work that will be necessary if the community has any hope of achieving those great ambitions.

The first vow came circa 2005, with a sign-on to the Mayors’ Agreement on Climate Change. That agreement specifies that communities must reduce their carbon emissions 7 percent below 1990 levels by 2012. With the possible exception of Seattle and perhaps several others, it now appears that few of the more than 1,000 towns and cities that signed on will achieve that target.

Then, in 2009, Telluride Mayor Stu Fraser announced a goal of becoming carbon neutral in its electrical supply by 2020. He said improving energy efficiency was an important first step.

But the devil is in the details. After a half-dozen public meetings in the last year, the council reviewed a proposal to substantially tighten the community energy code. Following a model first created in Aspen a decade ago and then copied with revisions in Eagle/Vail, Crested Butte, and other areas, it creates a penalty for what is considered excessive energy use, such as big houses, snowmelt systems, and outdoor tubs.

The Telluride Watch reports angry denunciations at a recent meeting. “You’re driving building costs up very substantially,” said a builder. “Let’s just make it so your average millionaire can’t even build a house here.”

A hot tub vendor advocated instead the banning of heated sidewalks, which he said would achieve the same level of reductions.

A minority of council members wanted to delay action, to allow additional time for discussion with builders.

But the majority of council members voted to proceed immediately in adopting the energy/green building code. They also scrapped some exemptions that had been recommended.

“If Telluride really wants to reduce its carbon footprint like it says it does, it’s time to stop making excuses and to begin reining in its energy use – even if it means higher costs or less convenience,” said theWatch in summarizing the majority opinion.

Whitefish defies the down economy

WHITEFISH, Mont. – Once known as Big Mountain, Whitefish Mountain Resort had another big year last winter. At 122,000 skier days, it’s no rival to Whistler or Breckenridge. But financially, it was a hit, reports the chief executive, Dan Graves.

Graves told theWhitefish Pilot that the ski area made money for the third straight year and cut its $8 million debt in half.

How can this be? Hasn’t this been the Great Recession?

Graves, who became chief executive in 2007, said that Whitefish Mountain had become too reliant on real-estate sales. In fact, the resort hasn’t sold a unit since December 2007.

“Real estate was such a key component within the ski industry that I think people forgot their way,” he said. “At some point, you have to get back to your resort operations.”

Well, that certainly sounds good now – especially since real estate has become such a clunker.

But how does he make resort operations pay? It seems to be by keeping expenses down. He shuns the expense of a high-speed quad. At $5.5 million, that would take 137,000 skier visits to pay for. Instead, he’s going to buy a used fixed-grip lift.

Graves contends the name change, aligning the resort with the town, has also yielded more visitors.

Gunnison geothermal project pitched

GUNNISON – Interest continues in developing underground heat in the mountains of Colorado to produce electricity.

TheCrested Butte News reports the potential for leasing 9,000 acres of federal government lands near Tomichi Dome, between the Monarch and Crested Butte ski areas. That underground heat is already manifested in a surface expression called the Waunita Hot Springs.

Some of the same lands had been leased to Mobile Oil Corp. in 1974, but the leases lapsed in 1991 with nothing ever having come of it. Now, there is new interest in geothermal heat, as it

has the potential to provide round-the-clock electrical production, unlike wind and solar.

Renewable energy is not without its controversies, however. At issue in the Gunnison-area will be whether geothermal development will impact long-held water rights and the Gunnison sage grouse, a species considered for protection under the federal government’s Endangered Species Act.

Whistler remains on the auction block

WHISTLER, B.C. – After selling Copper Mountain and a handful of other resorts, Intrawest managed to refinance its debt earlier this year, paying off Lehman Brothers and other creditors and getting a new loan that will be due in 2014.

Despite the new breathing room, Intrawest may still be shopping its flagship operation, the Whistler and Blackcomb ski areas. Citing unnamed sources,The Wall Street Journal reports that Intrawest had approached a Russian billionaire who is involved in hosting the 2014 Winter Olympics in Sochi, Russia. The billionaire, Vladimir Potanin, has made his money in mining of nickel, palladium and other minerals.

One source told theJournal that buying Whistler-Blackcomb would give him all the expertise he needed to get everything done in time for the 2014 Olympics. But another source said it’s unlikely Potanin will buy Whistler.

Whistler’s Pique Newsmagazine, in relaying the report, also noted that Nippon Cable, a Japanese firm that owns 23 percent of Whistler-Blackcomb, may increase its stake in the operation, giving Intrawest even more breathing room.

Town likely to extend chemical ban

REVELSTOKE, B.C. – Municipal councilors in Revelstoke will likely expand an existing ban on cosmetic pesticides in public parks and fields to include private properties.

Cosmetic pesticides are chemical or biological substances used to destroy insects, plants, and fungi to enhance the appearance of a lawn or garden, according to the Canadian Lung Associate website.

The Revelstoke Times Review reports controversy about how deep and pervasive the ban should be. Mayor David Raven said people were “polarized very, very significantly” on the issue. “Unfortunately, it’s not clean science in some cases,” he said.

An advisory environmental committee wants the existing ban on parks and playing fields extended to include private properties. But members note that older people, who grew up with the idea of “better living through chemicals,” will more likely resist the ban.

Thin air strikes 27-year-old climber

VAIL – Unlike many ailments, breathing difficulties from lack of oxygen don’t necessarily exempt the young and stouter individuals. Such is the case of high-altitude pulmonary edema, in which the lungs of people ascending in elevation fill with fluid, in effect drowning the person. That affliction disabled a would-be climber of 14,005-foot Mount of the Holy Cross.The Vail Daily reports the 27-year-old climber was removed by helicopter from his camping spot at a lake located at about 11,500 feet in elevation, near the bottom of the snow-filled couloirs and gullies that give the mountain its name.

Aspen riddled with bankruptcies

ASPEN – Another bankruptcy has made the news in Aspen, although it remains a very expensive sort of place.

The owner of a trio of parcels in downtown has filed for Chapter 11 bankruptcy protection. At the height of the real estate craze, the parcels had been advertised for $41.5 million. The price now is $28 million.

It was the third time since March that a landlord in downtown Aspen has filed for bankruptcy, notesThe Aspen Times, although in one case the judge rejected the petition.

But elsewhere comes news that a spec home near Aspen completed last year has sold for $24.5 million. The 13,000 square foot house sits on about 9 acres.

– 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