Vail follows Aspen, switches to wind power |

Vail follows Aspen, switches to wind power

Joel Stonington

Vail Resorts said Tuesday it would purchase enough wind energy to replace all power for the company’s five ski areas, dozen lodges and 125 retail stores.The total purchase is 152,000 megawatt-hours of wind-generated electricity, making Vail Resorts the second-largest corporate user of renewable energy in America. “It’s an exciting day,” Robert Katz, chief executive officer of Vail Resorts, said Tuesday. “Our business is about vacation experiences. It’s critical to protect those mountain settings.”Vail’s announcement follows in the footsteps of a decision by the Aspen Skiing Co. in March to offset 100 percent of its energy needs with wind power. “It’s a monumental move,” said Auden Schendler, Skico’s director of environmental affairs. “It represents a sea change that’s happening in the industry. It’s sending a huge message to the public. If Vail cares, you should care.”Vail chose not to highlight or even mention global climate change in its press release. Rather, the company framed the decision more broadly as something that makes environmental and economic sense. “We’re doing this because it’s the right thing to do,” Katz said. Katz said he doesn’t feel global warming is a ski issue in a direct way. “I don’t think ski areas are huge emitters of greenhouse gases. Wildlife, water, energy, recycling, education – all of these efforts are critical for the industry. It’s not just global warming.”The Associated Press reported that Vail’s purchase will remove 211 million pounds of carbon dioxide pollution annually, according to Quayle Hodek, founder and chief executive of Renewable Choice Energy, the company through which Vail is buying the energy credits. That’s equivalent to taking 18,000 vehicles off the road or planting 27,000 acres of trees.Wind energy credits, or renewable energy certificates, have been gaining popularity nationwide with consumers and corporations. In most parts of the country, it is not possible to buy 100 percent renewable energy directly, but a market for purchasing green-energy credits has been created. All spending on such credits directly supports renewable energy.The recreation industry has led the way, with companies such as Patagonia, Prana, REI and the Skico making major purchases. Other companies with a socially conscious clientele, such as Whole Foods, are also out in the lead.According to wind energy experts, the purchase likely cost Vail Resorts around $1.5 million, though Katz would neither confirm nor deny the amount. While renewables are more expensive now, many believe the purchase is also an excellent investment. “Sooner or later carbon is money,” Kevin Hagen, corporate social responsibility program manager for REI, said in March when that company decided to purchase 20 percent of its energy as renewable. “By having long-term wind contracts we were able to predict future costs for wind. The cost of wind energy is very solid. We’re willing to pay for price stability in the long term.”All Vail’s executives have switched their houses over to using wind energy, and Vail has further offered a promotion whereby anyone who switches a house to wind can get a free lift ticket to a Vail resort. “We were looking for a way to magnify the impact of our decision,” Katz said. “For Vail Resorts, 152,000 megawatt-hours is big, but we wanted to get our guests to participate in this effort. That’s a win-win.”Vail is the second-largest ski operator in North America, behind Intrawest. Vail Resorts owns and operates Vail, Beaver Creek, Keystone and Breckenridge in Colorado, Heavenly Lake Tahoe, Rock-Resorts and the Grand Teton Lodge Co. in Wyoming.Shares of Vail Resorts were down 6 cents at $34.51 in afternoon trading on the New York Stock Exchange.Joel Stonington’s e-mail address is