Aspen’s melting snow turned into hydro power |

Aspen’s melting snow turned into hydro power


SNOWMASS VILLAGE – The Aspen Skiing Co. benefited big-time from an ample snowpack this winter. Now it’s benefiting from the melting of that snowpack.The company flipped the switch to its new hydroelectric plant at Snowmass Ski Area last week. Over the next three months it hopes to generate enough power to supply 50 Aspen mansions for a year, according to Auden Schendler, the Skico’s director of environmental affairs.Construction on the hydro plant was completed last year, but it was too late to take advantage of spring and summer runoff. The plant went through a 24-hour test run in 2004.The plant relies on snow melting off the highest slopes of the ski area. A pond near the base of the Sheer Bliss chairlift captures part of the flow of West Brush Creek. That water tumbles down 800 vertical feet through 4,000 linear feet of underground pipe that was already in place for the snowmaking system.The water explodes through an opening about the size of a dime at a small shack that houses the turbine on upper Fanny Hill. The water spins a turbine, producing the power, then exits the shack to a settling pond, then gets piped back to West Brush Creek. No water is lost.The system couldn’t be turned on until May 22 because of cold conditions that prevailed this spring. Schendler said the goal is to have it operate three months from May 1 until the end of July.”We’re making about $144 dollars worth of power per day,” Schendler said. “That’s running at 100 kilowatts. So in an average day it’s about 2,400 kilowatt hours. In our three-month operating period, that will make enough power for a full year of running 50 big homes. So it’s a huge amount of power for a small system.”

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