Four Summit County ski resorts join Partners in Energy program with Xcel Energy | SummitDaily.com

Four Summit County ski resorts join Partners in Energy program with Xcel Energy

Summit County ski resorts are partnering with the High Country Conservation Center and Xcel Energy to reduce energy usage and promote sustainability in businesses.

In 2014, the conservation center applied for Xcel Energy's Partners in Energy program. The application included members of the individual towns and government in Summit. The program started in Minnesota where Xcel is based, and Summit was the first to implement initiatives in Colorado.

Xcel brings in resources that were not available to the conservation center previously. Through the energy company, the conservation center has been able to look at energy usage in the county as a whole.

"They've provided a ton of resources that have made this possible for us," said Cody Jensen, the energy programs manager at the High Country Conservation Center. "We don't have the bandwidth to make all this happen."

The conservation center decided to call the plan Energize Summit, and set a goal to reduce greenhouse gas emissions in the county by 15 percent by 2020. Jennifer Schenk, the executive director of the conservation center, said that they're starting by reducing energy usage by 2 percent per year.

"(It) sounds very attainable, but the challenge has come because our population is growing and our visitation is growing in this county," Schenk said. "We think it's achievable, but not super simple."

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Energize Summit breaks down some of the goals by focusing on different areas: hotel and lodging properties, the conservation center's Resource Wise business certification program, as well as local energy production and programs. The ski industry was another area of focus, and although Schenk said they had the contacts, the conservation center had never attempted to bring the resorts together to work collaboratively before.

The organization set up monthly meetings with representatives from Arapahoe Basin Ski Area, Breckenridge Ski Resort, Keystone Resort and Copper Mountain Resort.

"Usually we're all competing with each other for the skier visits, but on the sustainability front we all agree that this is something that we should be working together on just for our industry as a whole," said Sha Miklas, the guest services and sustainability manager at A-Basin. "We're also learning from Copper and from Breck and Keystone, and it's just really great that we can all talk about things that work and things that don't work."

Miklas said that A-Basin has been working on green initiatives for the past eight years. The ski area has been working on waste management by adding recycling bins. The resort recently added solar panels to the Kids Center, one of the few buildings with the right layout for it. The resort's FreeAire System monitors outdoor air temperatures, cycling the cold mountain air into the cooler. This helps to keep them at cold temperatures for an estimated 220 days a year without using much electricity, cutting associated energy usage by 90 percent.

A-Basin also joined the National Ski Areas Association's Climate Challenge. The program has resorts inventory their greenhouse gases in addition to making sustainability improvements. The reports are all made available to customers online.

"In the ski industry, for a while people didn't want to talk about how much energy they were using, or how much water they were using. But now it's just all out in the open," Miklas said.

Copper, Keystone and Breck have all been working toward changing their lighting for more efficient LED bulbs. At Copper, the resort recently replaced more than 3,400 fluorescent T8 lights. Both Breck and Keystone have reduced energy consumption by 10.5 megawatt-hours annually combined. The two resorts have also added pumping system controls.

Outside of the resorts, local businesses can also work with the High Country Conservation Center. Through the Resource Wise program, businesses can get a free energy audit as well as tips on how to implement more sustainable business practices. Jensen said that the conservation center will give each participant a score based off what kind of business it is, as well as additional recommendations. Summit and the individual towns help provide funding for businesses to put recommendations into place. Businesses can then get certified by the conservation center.

"The program does a great job at adapting to the specifics of a business, how it's run and we're not going to make recommendations to a business that it just doesn't apply or it doesn't make sense for them," Jensen said. "We're always looking for low hanging fruit, things that we think business could take advantage of, and we'll know they'll be happy once they finish the project."