Forest may fuel Vail’s future | AspenTimes.com

Forest may fuel Vail’s future

Edward Stoner
Vail correspondent
Aspen, CO Colorado

Vail Daily file A cyclist pedals past trees killed by pine beetles in West Vail in 2007. A Connecticut company is developing a plan to build a biomass plant in Vail that could use beetle-killed trees for energy.

VAIL, Colo. – A Connecticut company is developing plans for a biomass plant in Vail that could use pine-beetle-killed trees to create energy.

Hayden Cary and King Co. of Darien, Conn., is seeking a $30 million grant from the U.S. Department of Energy to fund the plan.

Vail Town Manager Stan Zemler sent a letter to the Department of Energy expressing interest in the project. The town owns 3 acres of land near Vail’s Public Works Department on Elkhorn Drive that would be a good spot for the facility, Zemler said.

The town’s “linear layout and European-style village provide for an ideal setting for a combined heat and power facility,” Zemler said.

The facility could produce both electricity and hot water, and it could heat streets as well as other things in town like lodges and swimming pools, Zemler said.

While Zemler said the town is interested in the project, there are lots of details that the company has to figure out to make it a viable project, he said.

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Officials estimate that the power plant would reduce carbon emissions by over 17,000 tons per year and create 50 permanent jobs for local residents.

“It comes down to what people want,” said Councilman Mark Gordon. “In the 2020 process (long-range planning community meetings in 2007) we were told that for the vast majority of the town of Vail, one of the most, if not the most, important goal was environmental sustainability.”

The 28-megawatt power plant would reduce fire danger and create a sustainable source of energy that would create hot water, cool water and electricity, Gordon said.

“It’s incredibly exciting,” Gordon said.

The facility would also meet clean emission requirements, according to the company.

The proposal also includes a partnership with John Deere, which is developing logging machines that could harvest dead trees in a sustainable and environmentally friendly manner, Gordon said. Gordon described the machines as looking like Imperial Walkers for the “Star Wars” movies.

The pine-beetle epidemic has killed up to 90 percent of mature lodgepole pines in some areas near Vail. The town has spent some $600,000 cutting down and removing infested trees.

The town of Vail would not put money into the project, but it would lease the land to the company and then purchase hot water for its street snowmelt system, Gordon said.

Gordon stressed that the entire plan is in a very preliminary stage.

Andrew King, managing director of Hayden Cary and King Co., declined to discuss the project when reached by phone Friday.

Other local groups have expressed interest in the project, too, including the U.S. Forest Service and the Denver Board of Water Commissioners.

In its letter to the Department of Energy, the water board expressed fears about the effect of a large forest fire on the region’s water supply. The biomass plant would create healthier forests, said Manager Hamlet J. Barry.

U.S. Sen. Mark Udall also sent a letter of support to the Department of Energy.

The Vail Valley Medical Center and Vail Resorts have expressed interest in buying energy from the potential facility, the Connecticut company said.

estoner@vaildaily.com

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