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May 2017

Save Energy, Save Cash

Resorts have a hidden opportunity for reducing expenses through energy conservation.

Written by Shelly Bortolotto | 0 comment

Energy management is an opportunity for ski resorts. After labor, energy is one of the largest—and often most variable—costs of operating. Still, reducing your energy usage can be daunting. Resorts have a broad variety of energy users, and there are other pressing priorities. But the financial and environmental results are worth the effort.

How to proceed? Start with an energy assessment, then model options, prioritize projects, and develop business cases. Partner with energy organizations and consultants, and seek out grants and funding to help get projects completed. Finally, develop an energy-saving culture to keep your momentum going.

Taking The First Step
An energy assessment will gather information about your current energy usage. You can do this on your own or partner with an energy management consultancy. For example, Blue Mountain, Pa., partnered with EMS Environmental Inc. to lead its energy management efforts, starting with an energy assessment.

EMS’ Phil Jones says the assessment began with interviews with resort staff to determine electricity demand and usage; then drew data from web-based monitoring services and multiple meters. EMS also looked at how the resort was being billed for electricity.

Robert Greenwald, president of Prism Engineering in British Columbia, cautions that it’s important to balance auditing with action. Prism begins with a “high level energy assessment to identify potential savings. A detailed audit can follow once we have confirmed that there are opportunities for the building or process,” he says.

Creating The Plan
Next, identify opportunities for improvement. EMS uses demand and volume information to create an activity-based model of electricity usage, which maps out the major energy users and their use pattern, efficiency, loading, and times in which they operate. This enables the company to model potential improvements and determine the benefits. The result is a practical cost-benefit analysis that can assist in prioritizing and developing business cases for both short- and long-term investments.

It is important to find a balance between quick wins with minimal investment, and larger capital projects with longer timelines. Pick the low-hanging fruit first—smaller, easier projects will show the economic and environmental value of energy management, “and that the process may not be as hard as previously thought,” says Greenwald.

Tap Financial Resources
Several programs are in place to assist with the financial burden. These can be found in a variety of places: locally through rebates and incentives from utility companies, all the way up to state and federal funding, including renewable energy and agricultural grants.

For example, GM Dave Scanlan at Mt. Abram, Maine, credits the U.S. Department of Agriculture (USDA) with the last piece of the puzzle that made the resort’s solar panel project feasible. The USDA grant “just made the numbers make sense,” he says. Mt. Abram is on track to meet payback on its 803 solar panels in five years.

Whistler Blackcomb partnered with BC Hydro to create energy reduction programs. The BC Hydro grants have enabled many efficiency steps. The resort has retrofitted lighting and mechanical systems including boilers, HVAC, and pumps. It replaced more than 12,000 light bulbs with energy-efficient fluorescent and LED technologies. By simply optimizing the systems at its largest three restaurants, Whistler Blackcomb dropped energy consumption by up to 16 percent at each location.

In the past 10 years, Whistler Blackcomb’s energy conservation programs have saved nearly 14 million kWh of electricity. That’s enough to power 1,400 homes in B.C. for a year. At today’s prices, 14 million kWh is worth C$1.4 million.

Engage Your Staff
Successful energy reduction programs require behavioral changes, which don’t come easily. Find passionate staff and give them the tools and support to take action and drive changes. Help them connect with other like-minded individuals and grow the passion and understanding of your employees. This will boost buy-in from energy users.

Whistler Blackcomb partners with BC Hydro to deliver a staff engagement program. The Workplace Conservation Awareness (WCA) program, comprised of staff representatives, meets monthly. It has designed initiatives ranging from energy conservation competitions— a “turn off the lights” campaign in staff housing, and “The Great Monitor Shut Down Challenge,” in which cleaners check computer monitors at night and leave a note and Hershey’s Kiss if they are off—to community awareness campaigns. This has engaged staff and demonstrated the WCA group’s commitment to energy reduction and overall sustainability.

Challenges To Overcome
One common challenge is making the projects with the biggest payback a priority. At Blue, EMS found it took longer to implement lighting improvements in non-guest facing operational areas, even though the payback was better. The area was more focused on improving the guest experience than reducing costs. Cost-reducing measures are often not given their due. To remedy that, EMS provided coaching to ensure this project was completed and the benefits realized.

With energy creation projects, like Mt. Abram’s, the major challenge is getting buy-in from the various stakeholder groups, including regulatory authorities, the community, and various special interest groups, Jones says.

For example, EMS helped Blue Mountain to determine the feasibility of a wind power project. The controversial nature of wind turbines ultimately meant that the project did not go ahead.
Instead, EMS and Blue developed a combined heat and power (CHP) project. The CHP uses natural gas, but produces electricity at least as efficiently as the power company, and also generates heat for buildings and water. The efficiency of fuel use increases by about 80 percent.

The Bottom Line
Jones says Blue Mountain has saved 5.5 million kWh per year—which is $500,000 in savings, in addition to the $550,000 in rebates the resort obtained. The resort also eliminated production of 4.9 million pounds of CO2 greenhouse gases.

And the dollar savings for Whistler Blackcomb? It gets better: The projects crafted by the resort and Prism now save more than 4.6 GWh of electricity per year. Plus, the two are working on a major retrofit of the resort’s compressor stations by installing a new control system that will reduce operating costs and enable the resort to improve snow quality.

It Doesn’t Happen Overnight
Energy management is an ongoing process. To start, incorporate energy reduction goals into management objectives, ensure that new buildings and retrofits include energy-saving measures, and include energy assessments in purchasing decisions for new equipment. Resorts that focus on energy management will surely have a competitive edge in the long term.