Basalt councilwoman presses Aspen Skiing Co. to ‘walk the walk’ on climate action |

Basalt councilwoman presses Aspen Skiing Co. to ‘walk the walk’ on climate action

Construction progresses on the Basalt Vista Affordable Housing project in Basalt in March. The Habitat for Humanity Roaring Fork project will produce as much energy as homeowners consume. Aspen Skiing Co. was asked by a Basalt official to also build a net zero project.
Aspen Times file

Aspen Skiing Co. is under pressure to Give a Flake in Basalt.

Basalt Councilwoman Katie Schwoerer voted with the majority Tuesday night to approve Skico’s proposed affordable-housing project at Willits Town Center. However, she stressed while addressing Skico President and CEO Mike Kaplan and members of his staff that she expects the company to “walk the walk” on environmental issues.

“I feel that you’re definitely addressing the day care crisis, housing crisis and traffic crisis,” Schwoerer said. “But the big crisis that we are not addressing in this application is climate. Can you make this a net-zero building, Mr. Kaplan?”

“I wish we could,” Kaplan replied.

“Why can’t you?” Schwoerer pressed.

Net zero means a building produces as much energy as it consumes, thus offsetting its carbon emissions.

Kaplan produced a chuckle from the audience when he turned to David Corbin, Skico senior vice president of planning and development and said, “Corbin, why can’t we?”

The answer was solar capacity.

“I would say in part, because there’s probably not enough footprint that we could ever get enough photovoltaics on that building to fully generate all the power that building would need,” Corbin said, referring to the 53,000-square-foot structure. “I don’t know that we could make it net zero. We’ve already taken a lot of steps to add photovoltaics to it, to be as efficient as possible in the building design, to go to electricity (from renewable resources).”

He noted that Skico is a partner in a project in Somerset that captures methane from a coal mine to produce energy.

“In effect, at a global level, if you will, we’ve tried to address all of our power needs and effectively have through that project, so I think we’ve kind of done it at the highest level,” Corbin said. “Doing it in microcosm on this site to make it entirely net zero, is probably very, very difficult. We’ll try to make it as efficient as we possibly can.”

Skico is recognized as a ski industry leader on reducing its carbon emissions and lobbying for national policy change on climate issues. It launched its Give a Flake campaign last year to build support for an environmental agenda.

Skico has committed to use all electric heat at its Basalt project so that it can tap renewable energy sources for power. It also must meet Basalt’s Sustainable Building Policies for construction.

Schwoerer kept pressing company officials to go further to address global warming.

“All of these other things — housing, traffic, day care — if we don’t have a planet, and you don’t have snow, we don’t have people, then this application is irrelevant,” Schwoerer said. “I look to Skico to really walk that walk and push nationally, regionally and in our valley to always have the greenest and progressive thought and (technology) in buildings.”

She urged the company to add solar panels above its 46-space, off-street parking lot to provide shade and produce energy. Corbin said the company would explore the feasibility to see if it could be physically accomplished.

Basalt is already the site of a model net-zero project in the Roaring Fork Valley. The Basalt Vista housing development by Basalt High School will produce as much energy as it consumes by using solar panels on the roofs of the duplexes and triplexes, efficient construction and running on electricity. The project is being built by Habitat for Humanity Roaring Fork and multiple partners. There will be a grand opening of the first units to be completed on-site at 11 a.m. Saturday.

Auden Schendler, Skico’s senior vice president of sustainability and community engagement as well as a Basalt councilman, didn’t attend the Tuesday’s council meeting because of the obvious conflict.

When contacted Wednesday by The Aspen Times, he said he feels Skico’s project will achieve net-zero status. It’s a question of when, not if, he said.

“By electrifying the whole thing, we’re teeing that up,” Schendler said. “And then the next step is to power it with 100% renewable.”

That will either happen as Holy Cross Energy continues to incorporate a greater amount of renewables into its mix or Skico accelerates the renewable mix with a power purchase agreement, Schendler said.

“We are having those conversations,” he said.

He also said the project is addressing the climate concerns raised by Schwoerer by locating it so close to mass transit. That eliminates traffic, pollution and congestion, he said.

The council approved Skico’s workforce housing proposal by a 4-2 vote. Company representatives said during the review process that it’s roughly a $15 million project.