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March 12, 2018

Squaw Valley is going completely green with renewable energy

by John_A

Squaw Valley Alpine Meadows is an internationally acclaimed ski resort located in North Lake Tahoe, California. The resort encompasses 6,000 skiable acres across two mountains and was voted the ‘Best Ski Resort’ by USA Today for the second year in a row. But the resort isn’t just dedicated to providing great skiing to its visitors — it’s also completely focused on reducing its carbon footprint.

In a dynamic partnership with Liberty Utilities, Squaw Valley recently announced it would power the resort with 100 percent clean, renewable energy sources by as early as December 2018 — reducing its carbon footprint by nearly 50 percent. But how and why exactly it plans on making the shift goes further than a simple pledge. Rather, Squaw Valley president Andy Wirth told us that he sees turning to renewable energy as more of a moral or ethical decision — a characteristic of the resort’s purpose.

Sustainability at its core

Since its founding, the company’s remained proactive in reducing its carbon footprint however possible. It’s tightened up its buildings by replacing light bulbs, implemented rideshare and carpool incentive programs, and transitioned to using recycled diesel for its snowcats and vehicles. One of its most well-known initiatives is the elimination of single-use plastic water bottle sales. Squaw Valley is also heavily engaged in the development of mass transit solutions for the region.

“…we have this fundamental ethos that is this constant drive to reduce our carbon footprint”

“We have a few specific programs to which you can point but I think it’s really more valuable to understand we have this fundamental ethos that is this constant drive to reduce our carbon footprint — it’s representative of our values,” Wirth told to Digital Trends.

Beginning in 2010, Squaw Valley’s utility company Liberty Utilities owned a power purchase agreement (PPA) that was five years in duration. During this period, Squaw Valley saw power sourcing which looked very similar to Nevada’s. In other words, it was a less than desirable system due to the lack of renewable energy. The resort’s energy grid was powered primarily by low-quality coal that went into a plant without a scrubber. Once the company found out about this, it joined forces with Liberty to transition to cleaner forms of energy.

A new era

“The great news is that on the morning of January 1, 2016, we turned on our lights and there was no longer a use for coal,” Wirth explained. “We filled the void of coal with natural gas — which is still kind of old school — but we kept the pressure on. We’re fortunate to have such an understanding and progressive utility company that will work with us on our mission of reducing our carbon footprint.”

In response to Squaw Valley’s request, Liberty built a 50-megawatt solar array in Luning, Nevada which will soon be complemented by the 10-megawatt Turquoise solar facility in Reno. Squaw Valley is currently powered by a minimum of 25 percent to an upwards of 30 percent renewable energy sources — and this is just the beginning. Its continued initiatives and collaboration with Liberty will bridge the remaining 75 percent gap until the resort reaches its full 100 percent goal.

The initiative isn’t just about measures of environmental sustainability, either — it also makes for good business. There’s available land that’s affordable and it’s not terribly far away, attributing greatly to its convenience.

“We think we’ll see our energy costs reduced over time by moving to 100 percent renewable energy,” Wirth added. “It appeals to my Chief Sustainability Officer as much as it appeals to my Chief Financial Officer. I think that is Environmentalism 5.0.”

It’s clear Squaw Valley plans to focus efforts on strategic solutions which benefit the resort and its surrounding community — of which is highlighted by its partnership with Liberty. The primary forms of renewable energy are solar, biomass, wind, and geothermal. Although any combination of renewables could be used to power the resort, Wirth told us that based on an evaluation of cost and availability, solar power makes the most sense.

Looking ahead

A transition to 100 percent renewable energy is a drastic one. To do it by the end of the year is also way ahead of what’s being suggested in recent legislation. For instance, Senate Bill 100 aims for 100 percent of total retail sales of electricity in California to come via eligible renewable energy and zero-carbon resources by December 31, 2045. However, this is expected to be reconsidered in California’s upcoming legislative session.

“We actually have to do these things right now to reverse the effects of climate change.”

This drastic transition won’t mean any changes in operations at Squaw Valley as the company still runs its own business and reserves the right to operate it successfully. Wirth pointed out that Squaw Valley is a value-driven company and part of its values include economic liability and sustainability as much as environmental sustainability.

“Solar allows us to move away from the debaucheries of commodity exchanges,” he said. “It’s a solid state and over time it’s going to be less expensive. It’s ultimately good for our business from a financial perspective.”

One of the efforts highlighting Squaw Valley’s energy initiatives is the Olympic Valley project. Liberty Utility’s Olympic Valley residential and commercial consumers are drastically impacted by Mother Nature, commonly resulting in area electric outages. The Olympic Valley Project would leverage state-of-the-art battery storage technology to create a new way to store surplus energy and deliver it to the utility’s grid.

As of now, Liberty and Squaw Valley are exploring potential sites on their property for the proposed storage tech — as is Tesla, the company responsible for manufacturing the actual storage system. The Olympic Valley Project is just one part of Squaw Valley’s renewable energy goals and the proposed microgrid won’t just assist resort operations — it will also have a positive impact on its surrounding community. The use of battery technology could provide for an additional source of power for homes and businesses on the grid when needed.

The bottom line

“The magic sauce is renewable energy attached to affordable energy storage,” Wirth acknowledged. “There’s a lot of climate change advocates but it’s not enough to advocate. We actually have to do these things right now to reverse the effects of climate change. This really isn’t about us or Tesla or Liberty Utilities — this is a roadmap that can make this happen. Affordable, renewable energy is available right now, so why wait?”

Squaw Valley’s transition to 100 percent renewable energy by the end of 2018 is both a statement and incentive for other businesses to follow suit. The proposed change reduces its carbon footprint from 13,078 metric tons to an estimated 6,682 metric tons. Though this is just the beginning, it’s already making an impact as several competing ski resorts have already reached out to Liberty Utilities for information on similar projects.

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