Bright, sunny skies and days on the slope have always gone hand in hand, but now that Vail Resorts has signed a partnership to ensure its ski operations are powered nearly entirely by renewable energy, bluebird days will mean a lot more to Stowe Mountain Resort operations.
On Nov. 13, Vail Resorts, the resort giant that bought ski operations at Stowe Mountain Resort in 2017 for $41 million, signed a contract with Lincoln Clean Energy, a leading U.S. supplier of renewable energy.
The contract goes into effect in 2020, and will pay for a new wind farm called the Plum Creek Wind Project, which will be completed just before the contract takes effect.
The 12-year contract means Vail Resorts has committed to buying the equivalent of this fiscal year’s energy use every year from Lincoln Clean Energy.
That’s 310,000 megawatt hours, enough to power 30,000 American homes every year.
If spending across all of Vail Resorts’ 18 resorts stays the same, those resorts will be powered by solar and wind energy, said Kate Wilson, Vail Resorts director of sustainability.
The power will be purchased virtually, and Vail Resorts will receive the energy credits from it.
So resorts won’t directly be powered by the Plum Creek Wind Project, since “it can be difficult or even impossible to source such an amount of electricity where our resorts are located,” but Vail Resorts will foot the bill to put the equivalent of its current energy usage into the grid, Wilson said.
Wilson said Vail Resorts is looking to be 100 percent powered by renewable energy by 2030.
“Companies with geographically diverse locations such as ourselves can have a big impact in bringing renewable energy to the grid,” Wilson said.
Stowe Electric Department currently supplies the power for Stowe Mountain Resort, including its snowmaking operations, and Ellen Burt, the municipal utility’s general manager, says it will continue to do so.
Since Stowe Mountain Resort is the town’s largest user of power, especially during snowmaking season, Burt says the municipal utility has a contract to buy its power annually. For the last two years, that contract has been with Shell Energy.
“They pay for what they use and it doesn’t affect any of my other customers. Lots of times if you buy a contract, if you’ve bought too much, it’s spread to other customers,” and can affect rates, Burt said.
The power through that contract is transmitted to Stowe Electric Department and then distributed to Stowe Mountain Resort.
For the six months last year when snowmaking was running at Stowe Mountain Resort — January, February and March of 2017, and October, November and December of 2018 — Stowe Mountain Resort bought 8,060 megawatt hours of electricity from Stowe Electric Department.
If spread over 12 months, that would power 1,200 homes, Burt said.
Stowe Mountain Resort’s power use last year was just 2.6 percent of the annual power slated for purchase each year from the Lincoln Clean Energy contract.
In Stowe, 72 percent of the snowmaking guns at Stowe Mountain Resort are considered low-energy, and the resort plans to increase that number to 80 percent.
Stowe Mountain Resort also worked with Vermont Energy Investment Corp. to install a snowmaking efficiency monitor and continue to track ways to be more efficient with snowmaking operations.
Single-use plastic out, too
Wilson said as part of the company’s commitment to minimizing environmental impacts, it’s also doing away with single-use plastic, including dining utensils, cups, plates and plastic straws.
Plastic straws are no longer automatically given at Stowe Mountain Resort; guests have to ask, said Jeff Wise, communications director for the resort.
“Anywhere that we can reduce anything coming onto the mountain, we’re doing that,” Wilson said.
Plastic cups will be replaced with washable tumblers where possible; otherwise, they’ll be switched with compostable plastic.
“Guests will see that happening over this season,” Wilson said.
About 70,000 pieces of single-use plastic are generated over the course of a year for Vail Resorts, Wilson said.
Vail Resorts also plans to upgrade more lighting to LED.
“We’re working to operationalize sustainability,” she said.