Ski Areas Will Use Wind Power

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You may see more wind mills at Vermont ski areas in the future. State officials announced [Wednesday] that the Vermont Department of Public Service will receive a $500,000 federal grant to work with the state’s ski areas and others to promote wind energy projects. VPR’s Nina Keck has more.

Killington President Allen Wilson says the state’s ski industry has been kicking around the idea of using wind power for decades, but he says the harsh climate presented too many obstacles. Advances in technology have overcome most of those problems, and Wilson says the Vermont Ski Areas Association is eager to take another look at wind power.

(Wilson) “Ski areas make sense for wind generation because of their elevation [and] constant winds. They are a large user of electricity, of fossil fuels and they have power distribution lines throughout their resort so they can easily distribute the power when they are in fact not using it.”

And Wilson says ski areas have the manpower and expertise to build and maintain multi-million dollar wind farms. But before any construction can start, there needs to be research. That’s where the $500,000 federal grant comes in. It’s money U.S. Senator Jim Jeffords earmarked from this year’s Energy bill and it’ll pay for analysis of individual sites as well as determine the costs, impacts and financial benefits of a potential wind farm. Killington president Allen Wilson hopes that a ridgeline just below Killington Peak will prove to be a good site for six to eight large turbines.

(Wilson) “A very nice site that actually has very little visual impact. You can see it from the Killington region, from the Killington Road, but from the normal highway system, Route 4, etc. you would not see the turbines.”

(Keck) Whether or not people can see the turbines may become a critical issue in all of this. Like cell-phone and radio towers, giant wind turbines have come under fire from people who argue that they’ll ruin mountain views. David Blittersdorf is president of NRG Systems, a Hinesburg company that makes wind-measuring devices. Blittersdorf says people needn’t worry that turbines will crop up on the top of Stowe or Killington. Mountaintops are not ideal for windmills because of problems with icing. Blittersdorf says the best locations for turbines are at slightly lower elevations – between 25- and 35-hundred feet. The beauty of locating wind farms at ski resorts, he says, is the fact that those areas have already been developed and have the necessary infrastructure such as access roads and a power grid. And Blittersdorf says ski areas could give wind power a credibility boost:

(Blittersdorf) “The ski areas are highly visible and I think that’s important because the main problem in Vermont is going to be the NIMBY – not in my back yard – aesthetics issue. And what we find in our industry is the more people actually see wind turbines working the more they accept them.”

But aesthetics aren’t the only concern. Elizabeth Courtney, Executive Director of the Vermont Natural Resources Council, says public safety also needs to be addressed when you locate a wind farm near a crowded ski area.

(Courtney) “Since you do have a moving part of the wind tower, the blades that rotate have been known to break off and fall to the ground. Wouldn’t want a skier to be in the way of that.”

Despite those concerns, Courtney says she’s a strong proponent of wind power and is excited about what the grant money may do for renewable energy in Vermont. Killington President Allen Wilson, who chairs of the Vermont Ski Areas Association, is also excited.

By law, ski areas in Vermont must reduce their toxic emissions by 2007, which means reducing their use of fossil fuels. Wilson says switching to something like wind power not only would help his resort meet stricter clean air standards, but could also help reduce Killington’s annual multi-million dollar power and fuel bill.

For Vermont Public Radio, I’m Nina Keck in Rutland.

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