Mountain News: Energy disagreements clear in co-op election 

GLENWOOD SPRINGS, Colo. - Twenty years ago, election of directors for the electrical co-ops that serve much of rural America - including many of Colorado's ski towns - got little attention. Co-ops prided themselves in reliably delivering electricity at generally low rates.

But a third standard has been added. Challengers argue that environmental considerations of power production must be factored into co-op operations. They want more effort to dampen demand and a more rapid embrace of renewable energy, even if it costs more.

Those issues can be found in this year's elections of Holy Cross Energy, a co-op that serves the Aspen, Vail and Glenwood Springs areas. Holy Cross has been regarded as among the most progressive electricity providers, but challengers want the co-op to accelerate the pace.

In the Aspen area, real estate agent Bob Starodoj, who has been a director of the utility since 1985, argues for caution, fearing spiked costs. "I'm not ready to jump into the mainstream of green and start swimming in it, because we don't know where it's going," he told the Aspen Times . In an interview with the Vail Daily , he advised flexibility: "There might be breakthroughs in technology such as the portable hydrogen cell that may be economically viable in the very near future," he said.

Challenger Dave Munk, who designs resource programs, says the 2 per cent of the co-op's operating revenues used for such things as energy audits for members and rebates for solar panels needs to be increased to 5 per cent.

The Times notes that Holy Cross customers, who in co-ops are also shareholders, last year were asked whether they would be willing to pay more for renewable energy. About half would be willing, and slightly fewer said no thanks.

The Aspen Skiing Co. has been involved in the last three elections, either directly through endorsement of challengers or through the unofficial capacity of Auden Schendler, the company's director of community and environmental responsibility. Schendler told the Times that Aspen Skiing wants to see Holy Cross add more renewables to its mix, so that Aspen Skiing can meet its goal of reducing its carbon footprint.

"Skico cannot meet its carbon goals without Holy Cross changing its power units," he said.

But Tom Turnbull, a rancher and chairman of the Holy Cross board, says he's uncomfortable with the Aspen Skiing Co.'s involvement in elections. "I just think they have enough on their plates without running Holy Cross," he said.


Aspen voting on tax for marketing

ASPEN, Colo. - Aspen voters will be asked in November to double the existing 1 per cent lodging tax. The increase would generate $450,000 for marketing and special events. Aspen Mayor Mick Ireland called it an opportunity for Aspen to "stand behind the notion of a sustainable tourism economy."


Vail Resorts to spend some money

BROOMFIELD, Colo. - Vail Resorts intends to plow between $75 million and $85 million into its various resorts this summer. Heavenly, on the California-Nevada border, will get an on-mountain restaurant. Vail Mountain gets a quad lift to replace the ancient three-seater that has served the Back Bowls for decades.


Steamboat project goes ahead

STEAMBOAT SPRINGS, Colo. - Work will proceed this summer on infrastructure work at the Steamboat ski area. Plans had suffered a couple of bumps in the road this year after the recession caused work to take a breather last year. But the Steamboat Pilot reports that the city council has agreed to allow $2.5 million in spending. Eventually, the town hopes to see a nice creek-side promenade in addition to a variety of new hotels. Burgess Creek, which runs along the base of the ski mountain, was at one time put into an underground pipe.


Airport proximity important

KETCHUM, Idaho - Sharp words have punctuated recent discussions about building a new airport farther away from Sun Valley and Ketchum. The debate has been fractious since the start.

The more distant airport would be able to accommodate larger planes, unlike the existing airport, which is located at Hailey, about a 15-minute drive from the resort. An hour's drive will be too much for Sun Valley's upper-crust customers, alleges one blogger on the Idaho Mountain Express. "Sun Valley as a tourist spot will die a quick death if you can't get there quickly from the airport," the blogger insists.

Would it? Aspen's airports lies only minutes from Aspen, but Vail's portal lies about a half-hour distant.


CB expects fewer airline seats

CRESTED BUTTE, Colo. - Crested Butte continues to evaluate its lifeline to the distant cities that provide its crucial winter customers.

Those flights need to be filled at least two-thirds full for the direct flights to work. This year, they were just 54 per cent full, and the local community will have to pay $1.2 million to the airlines in revenue guarantees. Such revenue guarantees are not uncommon, and a representative of Crested Butte Mountain Resort, the ski area, reported at a recent meeting that Steamboat paid $2.4 million in guarantees this year.

Instead of 45,000 incoming seats, as was the cast this past winter, Crested Butte figures it can only afford to guarantee 40,000 seats. The Crested Butte News also notes that there has been talk of directing customers to flights into Montrose, which is the better part of two hours away, as compared to the current 30 minutes. Telluride underwrites the flights into Montrose.


Additional parking considered

VAIL, Colo. - Vail town leaders continue to talk about how to get the parked cars off the frontage roads paralleling the interstate highway that splices the town.

The town has two big parking garages, plus one of the best bus systems among ski towns in the West. Still, cars routinely line the frontage roads on busy ski days. Town officials fret about the potential for injury, but also worry that it sends the signal that the ski mountain is full. At North America's largest, that rarely happens.

Various plans call for expanded parking, but all would require additional real estate development to buy-down the costs. The Vail Daily reports the town council thinks ski area operator Vail Resorts should be at the table with its chequebook.


Food both local and global

TELLURIDE, Colo. - Eating food from local sources sounds appealing in principle. After all, most food items now travel 1,300 miles or so. Eating local reduces the trucks grinding down the highway, the planes soaring overhead, all of them gulping down vast quantities of hydrocarbons - and spewing out greenhouse gases as they do.

But living in a mountain town adds an incremental challenge to the eat-local principle. The farms tend to be farther away, and the local frost-free season far, far shorter - just a matter of weeks in some places.

Still, here and there restaurants try. Both Aspen and Telluride get serviced by farmers in the Paonia area, located about halfway between. "I like to buy out of a pickup truck," says Lucas Price, who operates a restaurant in Telluride called La Cocina de Luz. "As a restaurant owner, I have the opportunity to develop a relationships with my purveyors. It feels so good to serve that food."

But he tells The Telluride Watch that the shop-local impulse only goes so far. His fish come from South Africa. At least the fish are wild, he says.


Building sells, at a discount

ASPEN, Colo.- Real estate has been moving, but at prices sharply discounted from the peak two years ago. The Aspen Times tells of an office building located in downtown Aspen that was listed at $6 million in 2008, just before the stock market crash. It has now sold for $3.1 million. The ground-level space has been empty.


Real estate sales rise

VAIL, Colo. - Echoing the reports in recent months from mountain-town newspapers, The Denver Post says that real estate sales picked up in mountain resort-dominated counties of Colorado during the early months of the year. The comparison is to the previous year, often described as the darkest time of the night in the recession.

Eagle County, home of Vail, had a 190 per cent increase, followed by a 113 per cent increase in the Steamboat area, 53 per cent in the Telluride region, and 29 per cent in Summit County. With a Four Seasons hotel and several other major projects to be completed in Vail later this year, some real estate folks argue that sales activity should further accelerate there.


LEEDing the way

AVON, Colo. - LEED certification has been gaining traction in the Vail area. The Gore Range Natural Science School plans to build a centre on the outskirts of Avon, with enough environment-minded designs to justify a platinum certification, the highest of the four levels offered by the U.S. Green Building Council. A new fire station in Vail will aim for a gold certification, the third highest.



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