Will Base Village change Skico’s green report card? | AspenTimes.com

Will Base Village change Skico’s green report card?

Brent Gardner-Smith
Aspen Times Staff Writer

The Aspen Skiing Co. released this week its third annual Sustainability Report, which seeks to document the company’s “progression as a green company.”

While the Skico can clearly point to actions it has taken to sustain the environment, such as tripling the amount of wind power it buys and moving toward using biodiesel fuel in all of its snowcats, the shadow of the proposed Base Village project looms over the company’s efforts.

In his introductory letter to the Sustainability Report, Skico CEO Pat O’Donnell tells readers, “Yes, we are planning a new base village development in Snowmass, an infill project on what had been a parking lot.

“But with our partner Intrawest, we have committed to making it the first truly green village in the ski industry, and we’ve added one of the country’s premiere efficiency engineers to our design team to ensure that happens.”

But despite O’Donnell being committed to a “truly green” village, is building 1 million square feet of new space at the base of the Snowmass Ski Area an environmentally friendly thing to do, even if measures are taken to make the buildings more energy efficient?

“That’s a legitimate question,” said Auden Schendler, the Skico’s director of environmental affairs. “And one that would be appropriate for Intrawest or Pat. I think my job is to make this thing as green as possible.”

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But there may still be a gap between the environmental high ground the Skico has staked out for itself and what its partner, Intrawest, is willing to spend to lower Base Village’s potential environmental footprint.

“I’m cautiously optimistic after meeting with Intrawest,” said Schendler. “Right now, we’ve talked about specific things, such as using sophisticated boilers and waste heat recovery techniques, but we don’t honestly have an answer as to what that is going to cost. In a month, we’re going to know a lot more.”

A detailed development proposal from Intrawest is expected to be submitted next month for review by the town of Snowmass Village.

The proposal is to include an energy efficiency analysis, as well as details about the 680 condos, 100,000 square feet of retail space, and 900 underground parking spaces that Intrawest and the Skico’s owners are expected to propose. The town conceptually approved the project earlier this year.

Schendler said he and Peter Rumsey, an outside energy efficiency engineer brought onto the project design team, are making progress in convincing Intrawest to adopt certain measures that will make the village greener.

Schendler is also pushing for: dual-flush toilets that use less water, designing the central heating system to use waste heat to run the village snowmelt system, going beyond the town’s energy code when it comes to the efficiency of roofs, walls and windows, using high-tech electronic controls to make it easier to turn down hotel lights when they are not in use, and using efficient lights in the parking garages.

“Right now, I’m pretty encouraged,” Schendler said.

But one measure that is not on the table to make the village more environmentally friendly is making it smaller.

“You can’t filter out environmental sustainability from economic sustainability,” Schendler said. “And Intrawest argues that you need that critical mass to make the village viable.”

The Skico’s Sustainability Report documents the amount of carbon dioxide emissions the company’s lifts, snowmaking and facilities emit each year. The baseline study has proven useful, Schendler said, because it allowed him to make the case to increase the amount of wind power the company was buying from 2 percent to 6 percent.

“We didn’t even know how many kilowatt hours we used before,” said Schendler.

Across all its ski area facilities, which include The Little Nell hotel, the Snowmass Club and all of the on-mountain restaurants, the Skico used 22 million kilowatt hours of electricity last year, which equals 22,468 tons of carbon dioxide being put into the atmosphere. The company’s, and the valley’s, electricity mainly comes from coal-burning power plants.

But the Sustainability Report, available online at aspensnowmass.com, does not document all the impacts from the company’s activities.

For example, the construction impacts, including dump truck trips from recently building 90 new condos at the Snowmass Club, are not included in the report, despite the company acknowledging that “diesel exhaust gives kids asthma; it is carcinogenic, and it causes acid rain, regional haze, and climate change.”

And the environmental impacts of eight years of potential construction at Base Village are also not likely to make future “Sustainability Reports.”

Schendler said there is a limit to how much time he can spend documenting the company’s impacts, and he also needs to draw the line on how many indirect impacts he considers.

“We could include things like airplane travel from employees and construction impacts, but we decided to draw the line at the numbers we have in there now.”

[Brent Gardner-Smith’s e-mail address is bgs@aspentimes.com]