Aspen Skiing Co. reduces carbon emissions through efficient snowmaking | AspenTimes.com

Aspen Skiing Co. reduces carbon emissions through efficient snowmaking

Aspen Skiing Co. makes snow on Aspen Mountain earlier this year. Skico reduced its carbon emissions in 2013, in large part because of more efficient snowmaking systems.

Aspen Skiing Co. reduced its carbon emissions by about 880 tons in 2013 compared with 2012, thanks in large part to Mother Nature and wise investments.

Skico is one of the few U.S. companies that examine their carbon footprints and release a report — warts and all — to the public. Skico's 2014 Sustainability Report said the company produced 28,805 tons of carbon in 2013. That is down 3 percent from 29,685 tons the year before.

To put the 880-ton reduction in perspective, driving a vehicle that gets 23 miles per gallon for 10,000 miles in a year would produce about 5.2 tons of carbon, according to various online resources. So, a reduction of 880 tons of carbon would be like taking 169 vehicles off the road.

A big reason for the reduction was hundreds of thousands of dollars in investments in more efficient snowmaking infrastructure, according to Auden Schendler, Skico's vice president of sustainability. The company has purchased more efficient guns and controls for its systems over the past few years. In addition, lots of natural snow in 2013-14 reduced the demand for snowmaking.

The amount of untreated water used for snowmaking fell to 179 million gallons last ski season from 252.34 million gallons the year before. Using a complex conversion factor, Skico figured its carbon emissions from snowmaking fell from 39 tons to 27 tons last season.

Skico also uses Aspen municipal water for some of its snowmaking at Aspen Mountain, but that isn't separated from other municipal water use.

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More efficient snowmaking has reduced electricity use as well as water consumption, Schendler said. Skico's electricity use fell 1.6 percent in 2013. Its carbon emissions from electricity use fell to 19,885 tons from 21,685 tons in 2012, the report said.

The reductions in carbon emissions from snowmaking and electricity use were partially offset by gains in fuel use and natural gas consumption, the Sustainability Report said.

Skico measures carbon production because it is a greenhouse gas that contributes to global warming, which spurs climate change. The company's carbon production has been steady over the 14 years since it was first measured. The company figured its operations emitted 31,605 tons of carbon in 2000, the first year it examined its carbon footprint.

Schendler said he considers Skico's efforts to influence national climate policy more important than its in-house decrease of its carbon footprint. However, he acknowledged it's important for the company to follow national policy.

"It gives us credibility when we're in Washington," he said, referring to lobbying efforts.

The true significance of Skico's reduction of carbon emissions over time is evidenced by the company's continued growth, Schendler said. It added the Limelight Hotel to its fold and has replaced and added chairlifts. The company has never excluded its new business operations from the comparisons.

"I'm happy that we're growing and decreasing the carbon footprint," Schendler said. "We're bending the curve down while we absorb additions to our operations."

The calculations of the company's carbon footprint don't give it credit for renewable-energy projects it operates. Skico built a solar garden at Colorado Rocky Mountain School, a micro-hydro plant at Fanny Hill in Snowmass and a coal-mine methane plant that converts methane emissions into electricity. The clean-energy sources combine to prevent emissions of about 22,675 tons of carbon, according to Skico's calculations. The coal-mine methane project produces power for Holy Cross Energy. That project alone takes away about 4 percent of Holy Cross' carbon emissions, according to Schendler. That clean energy benefits all customers of the utility because it isn't dedicated to any one user.

"A rising tide raises all ships," Schendler said.

Schendler said Skico is on track for a 7 or 8 percent reduction in emissions in 2014, again largely due to efficient snowmaking.

scondon@aspentimes.com

Skico appoints energy czar

Aspen Skiing Co. has appointed an energy czar to help make its 250 buildings more efficient.

Aaron Schafer, formerly an engineer at Skico’s Limelight Hotel, was appointed to the new position of energy manager for the company.

“It’s been on our radar for five years,” said Skico Vice President of Sustainability Auden Schendler. “Most big businesses have this position.”

Skico has “several millions of dollars in energy costs” at its buildings in the Roaring Fork Valley, he said. Skico executives believe the company can make a dent in those energy bills without making expensive capital improvements.

“You can take a crappy building and run it efficiently just by how you operate it,” Schendler said.

In the past, employees working in various buildings were somewhat responsible for efficiency issues, but it was usually secondary to their primary jobs.

“It’s like being in your house and not paying attention to your thermostat,” Schendler said. By paying more attention and applying common sense — such as turning the thermostat down at night — energy use will drop. Schafer will treat every building like it is his house, according to Schendler.

Skico is aiming for a 10 percent savings in energy bills.