Kirkwood Adds Windmill Power for Its Ski Resort
By Janet Fullwood, The Sacramento Bee, Calif.
Jul. 14–Kirkwood Mountain Resort is aiming to be the first ski area in the country to meet a significant portion of its electrical need with renewable energy generated on site.
The Alpine County resort has signed a letter of intent with Reno-based Synergy Power Corp. to install 20 wind turbines that would be hooked directly into Kirkwood’s power system.
The spinning blades would provide 6,000 kilowatt-hours of electricity daily — enough to satisfy about 20 percent of demand during the peak winter season and virtually everything needed to keep the lights on in summer.
“This would allow us to eliminate fossil fuel generation for all but four months a year” Kirkwood CEO Dave Likins said. “We could go almost eight months carbon-free as a resort community with 600 to 700 residents.”
If the project passes environmental muster, the turbines could be up and turning by 2010.
A number of Tahoe ski resorts have been making environmental statements and shrinking their carbon footprints by purchasing wind energy for several years. But the wind farms that their “green tag” credits support have been far from the slopes, often several states away.
The resorts still run lifts and lights with power largely derived from fossil fuels.
Kirkwood is Tahoe’s only major resort not connected to the region’s power grid. Its energy comes from Kirkwood Mountain Utilities, an independent producer that operates a diesel-fueled power plant.
The resort has been fined several times for violating pollution standards.
Now, Kirkwood may become a showcase for a new kind of green power: Its wind turbines won’t be the rigid, 350-foot-tall monsters that motorists see churning at places like Tehachapi or Livermore Pass.
“These are 100-foot turbines with significantly smaller blades on them,” Likins said.
Synergy’s design, developed in the 1970s and proved in sub-Saharan Africa, Saudi Arabia, South Africa, India, Kenya, the Australian Outback and other wind-swept locales, incorporates tilt-rotor technology that allows the turbines’ blades to pivot up to “helicopter” position with increasing wind speeds.
“In high winds, the blade is literally parallel with the ground, so the area the wind sees is almost a flat line,” said Synergy Executive Vice President Greg Jones.
“We’ve had turbines for 15-plus years in Indonesia, Malaysia and other island regions that have typhoons every year, and they ride them out. They’re designed to survive up to 150 mph sustained winds.”
That’s important because Kirkwood often experiences winter storms accompanied by screaming winds well above 100 mph.
“We clocked 190 mph winds twice during the last winter season,” Likins said.
Synergy’s design offers the additional benefit of operating more efficiently in low winds — also common at Kirkwood — than their bigger, heavy brethren, he added.
There’s a way to go yet before Kirkwood’s desire to put its money where its wind is becomes reality. The U.S. Forest Service will subject the wind proposal to a stringent review and permit process and invite public scrutiny.
“We’re highly concerned about visuals,” said Doug Barber, district ranger with the Amador Ranger District of the El Dorado National Forest. “But if we can overcome objections, I’d say yes, we’re in favor, because they’re dependent on diesel and have air-quality issues, and this would help with that.”
Kirkwood is working to identify non-intrusive locations that won’t be visible from Highway 88, the Mokelumne Wilderness or other visual corridors in the region.
The resort’s master plan calls for more than just wind to help it reach clean-energy sustainability. It’s signed a deal with True Energy of Carlsbad to retrofit generators of its existing power plant with propane-powered microturbines to capture waste heat for steam-based electricity. The process would cut diesel emissions and improve efficiency another 20 percent, according to Likins.
“When we put wind and steam-heat recovery together, we’re down to maybe just 60 to 80 days a year of relying on diesel,” he said.
By next year, Kirkwood plans to have a system of solar arrays, similar to those at Cal Expo, sprinkled over 8 to 10 acres of its parking lots.
“We could possibly see another 20 percent of demand handled through that,” Likins said.
Kirkwood’s sustainable energy won’t come cheap.
“We’re paying a lot for electricity under this model, but we’ve always felt that an important part of our role is to be stewards of the environment,” Likins said.
Jiminy Peak Mountain Resort in Massachusetts is the only ski area in the country that has installed a wind turbine.
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Copyright (c) 2008, The Sacramento Bee, Calif.
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