Aspen Skiing Co. needs help on carbon reduction
ASPEN – Aspen Skiing Co. might not be able to meet an internal goal of reducing its carbon dioxide emissions by 10 percent from 2000 levels by the end of this year unless it has an ace up its sleeve.
Fortunately, it just might have one, according to Auden Schendler, the company’s vice president of sustainability.
Skico has made “slow but not explosive” progress in reducing its carbon footprint over the past decade, according to “The Greenletter,” a monthly newsletter written by Schendler and Matt Hamilton, Skico manager of sustainability, and circulated among the company’s thousands of employees.
The company was one of the first to measure its carbon output and calculated that it was producing 31,605 tons of carbon dioxide in 2000. By 2010, the company shaved 700 tons off that baseline even though it was growing. That is a 2 percent reduction.
“That’s not horrendous. But it’s not exactly saving the planet, either,” Skico’s “Greenletter” says.
To meet the lofty goal of reducing carbon emissions by 10 percent by the end of 2012, the company must find a way to eliminate 1,200 tons of carbon in both 2011 and 2012.
“Realistically, that’s like skiing S1 in a thin snow year and not clipping a rock – not impossible but very, very difficult,” Skico’s green guys said in the newsletter.
Schendler said the company has focused on increasing its efficiency to reduce its carbon emissions. It has invested millions in projects that aren’t real sexy but still make great progress, such as a new boiler for The Little Nell hotel. That move alone will cut the natural gas Skico uses by 10 percent.
The biggest moves have been tearing down old, inefficient buildings and replacing them with models of efficiency. The patrol headquarters at Aspen Highlands and Buttermilk were upgraded drastically with efficient new buildings. The Merry-Go-Round and Sam’s Smokehouse restaurants have replaced their leaky, old predecessors.
Despite those efficiency improvements, Skico also is gobbling more energy through growth. It acquired the Limelight Lodge in 2009 and decided it had to account for the lodge’s power consumption. Lift improvements also mean more consumption. Two rickety old chairlifts at Tiehack were replaced by the Tiehack Express high-speed four-seat chairlift. It has a bigger motor and will use considerably more power, according to The Greenletter.
“While we’re making strides on efficiency, we’re going to have to address supply in a big way, and we’re working on that,” Schendler said.
Skico teamed with partners to build a small solar farm on the campus of Colorado Rocky Mountain School earlier this decade. It also built a small hydroelectric plant on the slopes of Snowmass. About 5 percent of its electricity from Holy Cross Energy is green power.
And the company has looked at bigger projects – larger hydroelectric plants; wind turbines on the Cirque at Snowmass and multiple others. None of them was going to work for one reason or another, Schendler said. So in the green-power department, what Skico was doing was “insignificant,” he said.
“Finally, we landed on the possibility of using waste methane vented from coal mines to make power,” Schendler said.
He was reluctant to provide details because the project is far from certain. In short, Skico and several partners are looking into building a methane-power plant that would tap the gas being vented from a Colorado coal mine.
Methane is a particularly potent greenhouse gas that has a global-warming potential 20 times greater than carbon dioxide, according to the U.S. Environmental Protection Agency’s website. More companies overseas and in the U.S. are looking into putting that waste gas to good work.
Schendler said he loves the concept for its beauty.
“If you make power from this waste gas, you capture a resource that was going to waste, you destroy a potent greenhouse gas, and you get electricity in the process, which is actually hugely carbon negative due to the methane destruction,” he said.
The methane-fired plant has the potential for Skico to offset all its power consumption through its investment, according to Schendler. However, he said it is too premature to determine if the project is feasible.
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The city of Aspen’s office building is exempt from paying encroachment fees, yet private developers have to now pay $9 a square foot, per month, starting in 2020.