Wind power helps ski resort during recession

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“Zephyr (nickname for the wind turbine) works its magic to produce about a third of Jiminy Peak’s electric needs, shaving $450,000 a year from the resort’s energy bill. To put that in perspective, the energy from the turbine is enough to power more than 600 homes.” – that is some serious savings there to say the least!!!
– FlashAddict

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By Ayesha Tejpar

HANCOCK, Massachusetts (CNN) — Imagine climbing 276 steps to change a light bulb. That’s all in a day’s work for Rian Harford.

The Zephyr wind turbine towers over Jiminy Peak Mountain Resort in Massachusetts.

The Zephyr wind turbine towers over Jiminy Peak Mountain Resort in Massachusetts.

He’s a mountain operations mechanic at Jiminy Peak Mountain Resort. And that light bulb isn’t just a regular light bulb. It belongs inside an air-traffic warning light that sits 253 feet high upon a wind turbine.

Jiminy Peak, in Hancock, Massachusetts, touts itself as the first ski resort in North America to feature such a structure.

The idea to build the turbine came to company president and CEO Brian Fairbank after years of struggling with the astronomical cost of making snow.

“Somebody suggested we take advantage of the wind. You use the energy the most in the winter,” Fairbank said. “That’s when the wind blows the most.”

But such a simple concept wasn’t so easy to execute. It took more than three years to take the idea from conception to fruition.

Video Watch what it’s like on top of the giant turbine »

Before even placing an order for a turbine, the resort had to study everything from Federal Aviation Administration regulations to the structure’s effect on airplanes, birds and endangered species.

Once everything fell into place, Jiminy Peak was tasked to get 500 tons of parts and equipment up the mountain, via a two-mile-long gravel road.

“Once we got everything to the top of mountain, putting it together only took a couple days, but getting it up there was the biggest challenge,” Fairbank said.

In fall 2007, the $4 million project was complete. The turbine is nicknamed Zephyr, after the Greek god of the west wind. And Zephyr isn’t afraid to make its presence known.

The tower is more than 250 feet tall. The hub adds 10 feet, and the blades extend an additional 123 feet, creating a 386-foot green machine.

Zephyr works its magic to produce about a third of Jiminy Peak’s electric needs, shaving $450,000 a year from the resort’s energy bill. To put that in perspective, the energy from the turbine is enough to power more than 600 homes.

And Zephyr’s power doesn’t stop there. It has also drawn the interest of many visitors. Louise Pinho did her homework to find out how effective the wind turbine really is.

“When you read about what it’s able to do for the resort, that it can take up to 33 percent off of their bills, then you realize that there is more of a need for this,” Pinho said. “With what’s going on right now, we have to have some alternatives to our energy sources that we have available to us.”

But Pinho isn’t blind to Zephyr’s visual and environmental drawbacks. Studies show that wind turbines destroy the habitat that many animals live in. Bats, which play a large role in consuming insects and pests, are an example of a species that’s most affected.

According to Thomas Kunz, a biology professor at Boston University, these bats aren’t necessarily being struck by the blades of a wind turbine. Their bodies are affected by a low-pressure system caused when the blades move through the air.

“They die from hemorrhaging,” Kunz says. In areas close to wind turbines, “80 percent of the bats that we know about today are killed in that fashion.”

Kunz says that specifically, migrating bats seem to be more affected, mainly during their fall migration, which lasts from late summer to early autumn.

At Jiminy Peak Mountain Resort, the turbine produces electricity year round, but more than 60 percent of its output takes place in the winter months.

Regardless, Fairbank is no stranger to negative feedback. Some people in the community didn’t want the turbine to obstruct their view of the mountains.

But he says that only a small part of the community complains. In fact, some neighbors reap Zephyr’s benefit. In the summer, when the resort’s demands are lower, Zephyr’s electricity trickles downhill to power local homes and businesses.

“So all those communities become green when we’re not using the power,” Fairbank said.And when it comes to being green, this Massachusetts resort isn’t new to the game. Since 1985, the company has implemented various environmentally friendly practices. From recycling motor oil to heat lodges to installing waterless urinals, Fairbank says, the business is always looking for ways to conserve.

And that may be paying off. In a time when many businesses are closing their doors, Fairbank said, “we’re 12 percent ahead of our best year ever.”

17 Responses to Wind power helps ski resort during recession

  1. jack says:

    the project was 4million dollars!! that means it will take 9 years to break even at 450000$ a year assuming minimal maintenance costs, which I am sure are not trivial over a 9-10 yr period. There probably loosing money on the thing!

  2. flashaddict says:

    I think that they are looking at the log term picture and the possibilities that they would to expand the project further. I won’t deny that the upfront cost of the turbine was hefty at $4 million but you have to applaud them for at least trying to make a difference and saving $450,000 a year in the process. That and the fact that during the summer, the excess energy produced is sent back into the energy grid for the town surrounding the resort.

  3. skibum says:

    Part of the cost was offset by grants. The Zephyr should break even in about three and half years.

  4. Ford says:


    Why would you applaud a technology that is not economically viable without tax credits or subsidies? If they expand the project, they still have to spend $4 mm per turbine, it is not something that is scalable – so the same repayment issues exist. Jack is right. The project doesn’t pay itself back in less than 9 years and that is only if there is no maintenance. Given that one will spend at least ½ the cost of installation over the 12 to 15 year life of the asset on maintenance costs, there is no way this is economically viable unless 1. They get a subsidy for the investment, 2. They get tax credits, and/or 3. The price for electricity doubles. In any event the reporter did not ask the right questions that Jack noticed.

    A ski resort with $4mm extra cash and an ability to take 9+ years to repay it in the middle of the recession??? I need that bank! I will bet your next ski lift ticket that the initial $4mm investment was not cash out of their pocket, but from some other source. If it was your money, you would not make the investment given the length of repayment and other costs….you would be applauded for being cautious and prudent.

    Said another way, if wind power was really the panacea that the article makes out, than it would account for more than .01% of all electrical production in the US. Note that the U.S. has the lowest cost electricity in the world (only way we still have some form of an industrial base left in this country, but that is another story) and this is a result of US power producers always seeking the lowest cost form of power to sell. That form of power has been and is likely to be (without tax distortions) coal/nuclear/gas at least for next 30+ years. The reporter for this story was typically uninformed, and wrote a puff piece that failed to mention the hard fiscal realities….but unfortunately is more the norm these days for reporting.

  5. janelfh says:

    what’s the big deal about one wind turbine … Big Rock Ski Area, Mars Hill, Maine – – has had at least 25 huge wind turbines across the summit of their mountain since 2004/2005. Its an amazing sight from more than 20 miles away in any direction on a clear day !
    It’s not yet on the Maine energy grid, last I heard, but it’s a great start for Maine to become energy independent in the future. We should have some off the coast too, like Denmark.

  6. John says:

    Quote: “Why would you applaud a technology that is not economically viable without tax credits or subsidies? If they expand the project, they still have to spend $4 mm per turbine, it is not something that is scalable – so the same repayment issues exist.”

    Gosh, did you guys get degrees in finance or something? You studied the math on investments well and you are so condescending.

    Here’s another try: the investment receives backing from grants from the government. Within the context of grants, it does return within three years. But why should the government (e.g. all of us) pay for green power? How is that grant repaid? Because the government just picks op the difference between 3.5 years and 9 years. Imagine if this happened nationwide: after 10 years, our energy is free and the costs are paid for.

    Where would you rather be 10 years from now? The only loss is opportunity cost which is what finance is supposed to measure: what is the best option available, not some arbitrary ROI. As a nation as a whole our opportunities in this realm are fairly limited: hence why the economics of grants works. Overall, do you keep paying for foreign oil and polluting the environment or do you free America and help the environment? Do you keep America enslaved to foreign oil producers a la Bush (for ego kickbacks if not actual kickbacks) or do you fight for your freedom.

    I am guessing that you are Republican and that for you it is more fun to hate than to think, to hate than to change, to hate than to well pretty much anything.

  7. Dan says:

    How much foreign oil will be “saved” when less than 1% of US electricity is generated by burning oil?

    How attractive will our rural landscapes look when thousands of FAA required lights flash continuously 24/7/365 and are reflected back by cloud cover?

    The windmill shown is less than half the height of the newer designs currently planned.

    Why is it that Europeans have asked the EU to permanently suspend new wind projects? Do they know something we don’t about wind?

    How wonderful will life be as insects proliferate due to bats’ being slowly killed off? Bats are already under severe pressure due to fungus infection.

    Why is it that in my local area the zoning laws that local residents have had to follow were suddenly changed to accommodate wind power companies’ plans? I suspect this has happened in more areas than just mine.

    Speaking of Denmark: they built enough capacity to theoretically generate 20% of their electrical power, but actually get less than 1% because there is no way to store wind power. The highest electrical demand occurs in July and August when the wind is the least.

  8. Thinker says:

    Mr Ford does not seem to be figuring in the “cost of the exhaust” of his preferred methods of electric generation. What is the true cost of burning coal? There are increased health care costs for lung diseases such as asthma due to particulate and sulphur dioxide pollution , reduced productivity of those affected, early death of children and adults. Then there is ground water pollution such as silt from operating mines and acid runoff after they are closed, as well as the mercury released during the burning. What is the cost of Global Warming in his calculations? What about the tons of carbon dioxide that are released into the atmosphere for both coal and natural gas. Both cause acid rain that further degrades our air and water. What is the cost of containing nuclear waste? The plutonium that is a by product of fission has a half life of 24,000 years and is the most poisonous metal known to man. An amount the size of a nickel could kill everyone in a large city. What civilization has ever lasted 24,000 years? What is the health cost of low level radiation leaks? The tax system in this country does not take any of this into account, so effectively we subsidize these methods as well, since we have to pay to clean up the mess. This is the fiscal and physical reality. You can make anything look good if you ignore the true costs.

    Strategically, we need as much renewable energy as possible to shield our country from economic attacks from imported energy if we wish to remain a world power in the long run. Our transportation systems will rely on electricity, or some combination of electricity and electrically produced hydrogen (as a storage medium). Coal and gas are finite resources and are perhaps better saved, and used, for the complex organic compounds they contain, instead of just being burned in a dirty way. Our tax system can be adjusted to make renewable energy sources the most economical sources. This is only a matter of public policy.

    My interest in this subject stems from the fact that my family’s business, since 1923, is coal reserves and mining. I was also one of those lucky people to be irradiated in Middletown, Pa during the Three Mile Island melt down in 1979. I am a transportation planner and also hold a degree in biological science.

  9. Kevin says:

    Well, I was going to mention the recoop duration but it looks like other posters beat me to it. Talk about a symbolic victory and one hell of an eye sore.

  10. Mark Schisler says:

    I would consider skiing at this resort over other resorts that do not support green energy.

  11. Dave B says:

    Hmmm. Payback in 4.5 to 9 years. Given that interests rates are somewhere around 2.5% right now, (and if we look at Japan, this will probably stick around for 10-15 years) a good rate of return on $4mm invested would be $100,000. But this investment is paying a rate of return of $450,000 or 11.25% based upon a $4mm investment. Sure there is maintenence and all of that. Now assume 1/2 is subsidized by the Obama Administration. So the rate of return woulkd be based upoin a $2mm investment. So this represents a rate of return of 22.5% assuming this is true. T Boone Picken knows a lot about digging a hole, putting a pump on the ground and letting the black gold flow. Sure the first 5-10 years are all payback of that original investment, but after taht, it s a fricking gold mine. Maybe these numbers are why T Boone and his Texas minions see harnessing the wind as being the next equivalent to the wildcat oil industry. Does not one but me really see this? Sure windmills need maintenence, light bulb changing and the like, but so do oil rigs. But the difference between an oil rig and the wiond is an oil rig can only pump out a finite amount of oil. Absent polar shift or the moon coming detached from earthly orbit, not only will this pay oiff during T Boone’s lifetime but his grand children, great grandchildren and beyond. My prediction is this. IN 10 years time, once the windmill isaid off (or 4 years if under govt subsidy) this guy will close the resort and live off the redidual $450k in annual income (more given the price spike caused by the privitization of electricity generation) as its a lot less effort for the return. Perhaps some rock stars should tak eht first $4mm and invest in a windmill and guarantee themselves they won’t be broke and forced to tour playing their one hit wonders into their 70s. Perhaps some of these Hollywood types haven something after all. It won’t be long uintil we have too much energy (electric) if we move to electric cars and the like sure demand will spike, but it won’t be long until the established windmill owners like this guy start lobbying for a moratorium on the placement of additional windmills… as the additional placement of windmills encroaches on their profits. Oil industry lobbyists are the one’s who themselves lobby for a moratorium on drilling. Sure they are all about opening more land to drilling, but only if it goes to established oil companies, so they can sit and wait for their esxisting black gold mines to go dry before and they can make sure they have new sources of wealth from nowhere. They don’t want more competition. Wake Up AMerica!

  12. Tx Physicist says:

    Ford, et-al:

    Actually they have made some real strides in the area of solar cell efficiency (amorphous silicon, carrier multiplication, etc.) and along with coming up with innovative manufacturing techniques to “hammer” down the other area that prevents it from competing with either coal/nuclear/oil. I see solar being a more effective competitor then the other green technologies in about 8-10 years (if not sooner). Throw into the mix that if the cost/efficiency reaches the right price point and we start integrating them (large scale) into home roofing systems – one then improves the efficiency even more since you kill the cost of transmission (loss).

  13. Mike says:

    Just passing by.Btw, your website have great content!

  14. Jon says:

    I need to know a little more about the financial picture. Is the $450,000 per year savings after paying loan payments ($264,000 per year @ 3%) and maintenance ($80,000 per year @ 2% of initial cost)? If so, that’s a pretty good investment. If the $450,00 per year is purely the reduction in electrical costs, then the annual savings is more like $100,000 per year after costs after subtracting the loan payments and operating costs.

  15. Dan says:

    Jon is right. The news piece does not go into sufficient financial detail to warrant quick condemnation nor praise.

    Overall, the piece was clearly biased and supportive of wind when in reality there remain many unanswered environmental, economic and quality of life issues surrounding plans for wholesale adaptation of wind energy.

    The thing that bothers me the most is that the wind energy companies have taken steps to keep information secret. Contracts with land owners contain clauses that keep signors silent. They swoop in and get the local zoning changes they need before the public has time to realize what is happening. They conduct studies to see how many birds and bats are killed and make the– typically young– people who do the counts sign statements that they cannot divulge or discuss the results. One state has even stepped in and acknowledged this behavior is unacceptably unethical.

  16. Thinker says:

    Actually one can store excess wind and solar energy by hydrolysis of water creating hydrogen and oxygen in a simple process with out moving parts, which can be stored for later use in fuel cells or burned in internal combustion engines to generate electricity. The hydrogen could also be burned for heating or other propulsion uses purposes as well.

    People seem to want to parrot the popular dogma that the “sun doesn’t sun shine at night and the wind doesn’t blow all the time” so wind and solar are thought not to be reliable. Properly sized and integrated into a system that includes storage makes these two methods of energy production quite viable.

  17. Dan says:

    Thinker, you should tell the rest of the world, because no one is doing or talking about that. I wonder why? Could it be that the simple process does not scale to industrial size? How would you get the hydrogen to the fleet of hydrogen vehicles? Pipe it or some other means? How would you deal with the tail pipe water dripping from the hydrogen vehicles during times when the weather is below freezing?

    Wind is simply too diffuse and unreliable an energy source to replace carbon fossil fuels for propulsion or electrical generation, unless one accepts major limitations. Solar (off topic) has potential for electrical generation. The only real answer it seems is a new look at nuclear, and hope advances in fusion pan out:

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