Before it was at the vanguard of North American luxury ski resorts, Aspen, Colorado, was a mining town. Now, Aspen Skiing Company has made a $5.4 million investment in a coal mine—a mine owned, no less, by billionaire climate change denier Bill Koch. But the investment is actually for a clean energy project. Really.
Here's how it works: The money was put into a system that captures methane emissions that are vented from the Elk Creek mine in Somerset, Colorado, and then uses this gas to generate electricity, which is fed into the grid. This not only prevents the methane—a greenhouse gas 20 times more harmful that carbon dioxide—from entering the atmosphere, but it will use this byproduct of coal mining to eliminate three times the carbon pollution that the Aspen ski resort creates each year.
The project kicked off today with a press conference at the mine site.
Aspen Skiing Company (ASC) is among the most outspoken and proactive ski resorts looking to mitigate the effects of climate change, which could essentially destroy the snow-sports industry. While it has made investments in wind, solar, and even small hydro power (to the tune of about $1.5 million), none of those projects will come close to the impact of the methane-to-energy project, says Auden Schendler, ASC's vice president of sustainability, both in terms of cost and impact. It will produce as much energy as ASC—all of its resorts, hotels, and other properties—uses in a year.
"This all came out of our interest in generating a lot of clean power, as a ski resort. We've been looking for something really big, and this was by far the best bang for the buck," says Schendler. This project, which cost around $6 million total, will generate enough electricity from the captured methane to eliminate 96,465 tons of CO2 equivalent every year. That's like removing 13,151 cars from the road. To get an equal amount of carbon reduction from a solar energy project, Aspen would have had to spend around $400 million, says Randy Udall, an independent energy analyst who helped develop the project.