Energy a key issue for ski areas 

Western ski resorts look to Whistler-Blackcomb to save money, electricity; W-B reconsidering wind power

Whistler-Blackcomb still has a long way to go to be energy efficient says Arthur De Jong, the mountain planner and environmental resource manager for the company. Still, that hasn’t stopped the Canada West Ski Areas Association from recognizing Whistler-Blackcomb as a leader, or from using the company as an example of how to save money, energy and the environment by making the right partnerships and investments.

Whistler-Blackcomb was the first ski resort in B.C. to work with B.C. Hydro’s Power Smart incentive program. This year alone the mountains hope to save over $80,000 on their power bills, and more systems are being put into place to enhance those savings even further.

"We’re really just digging in and grabbing the low hanging fruit here, but we still have a long way to go," said De Jong. "I don’t see us as a leader per se, because there is still a lot to do."

Over the next few years the mountains will spend an estimated $300,000-$400,000 on power conservation systems, from basic sensors, timers and compact fluorescent lights to systems that will allow some mountain facilities to seamlessly switch to efficient propane generators at times of peak demand.

"There are a number of those systems in place. We certainly intend to take even bigger steps in the future where we are actually generating sustainable energy, green energy," said DeJong.

A plan to put a run-of-the-river small hydro project along Fitzsimmons Creek has been stalled by the development of the Olympic bobsleigh/luge track on Blackcomb, and may not be economically feasible unless a new route can be found.

The Fitzsimmons Creek project, which could generate enough electricity in the summer to power Whistler-Blackcomb for the winter, was considered by the company to be environmentally benign because there are no fish upstream of Base II.

"We haven’t given up on that," said De Jong.

De Jong said the mountains are also taking another look at wind power. Because of the inconsistent winds and rapidly changing weather conditions in Whistler, earlier studies have suggested that windmills are a poor fit for the area. New technology that allows for power generation with lower average wind speeds has prompted Whistler-Blackcomb to re-evaluate the use of wind power for their operations.

Meanwhile the Canada West Ski Areas Association has created a task force to help members change their own energy practices, using Whistler-Blackcomb’s practices as a model.

"We’ve presented in past CWSAA meetings on environmental initiatives, and there’s a lot of information sharing going on," said De Jong. "When it comes to the environment or social sustainability, we’re not competing with one another, we’re working as a team in the industry to be better stewards."

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