By converting waste methane into energy, Aspen Skiing Company’s clean energy production facility in a former coal mine in Somerset, Colorado, is generating between $100,000 and $150,000 in revenue per month from electricity and carbon credit sales — and after nearly ten years, ASC has only about $750,000 remaining to pay off its initial investment of $5.34 million, the company announced today.
In 2012, ASC partnered with Oxbow’s Elk Creek Mine, Holy Cross Energy, and Vessels Carbon Solutions to convert waste methane from the coal plant into usable electricity, reducing greenhouse gas emissions and generating financial return along the way.
The Elk Creek Mine produces three megawatts of baseload power, which is as much energy as ASC uses annually at all four of its resorts, including hotels and restaurants, the company says.
When the skiing company began talking about the project with its potential partner, Oxbow’s Elk Creek Mine, certain obstacles had to be overcome. “We realized we were coming from an environmental perspective and Oxbow was coming from a business perspective. The good part was that there was an economic case to be made,” Matt Jones, ASC’s chief financial officer, told Environment + Energy Leader. “When we started to talk less about climate change and more about capturing and monetizing wasted resources, we got traction.”
Additionally, the companies had to overcome a communications gap. Every business has its own language, Jones points out. “We’re ski and hospitality people and we had to learn the language of coal mining and natural gas, and translate that into a complicated agreement around groundbreaking renewable energy. We literally created a cheat sheet so that everybody could understand and agree upon the terms. There were a few points where everybody wanted to bail, because nobody needed to do this, but we stuck with it.”
Now, ASC says the electricity generated and the carbon offsets flow into the utility grid, not to ASC directly, greening the entire regional grid. Since the project got started, it has prevented the emission of 250 billion cubic feet of methane annually into the atmosphere.
To reduce its carbon footprint, ASC says it has been working on producing renewable energy for a long time. It was the first in the ski industry to build a solar array in 2004, followed by a micro-hydroelectric plant tied to their snowmaking system. The company then installed a 147-kilowatt solar array on the Colorado Rocky Mountain School campus in Carbondale in 2008. At the time, it was the largest solar array on Colorado’s Western Slope. However, none of these projects generated enough power in relation to ASC’s high-energy needs. The methane-to-electricity project was attractive because it had the potential to produce far more energy than the others.
“We have learned a lot from this project and will continue to work on developing innovative solutions to this global crisis,” says Jones.