Burke Mountain to install wind turbine

The wind turbine at Bolton Valley, a first for a Vermont ski area. Justin Cash/Courtesy of Bolton Valley

Burke Mountain, Vt., is planning to install a wind turbine this spring to help power approximately 15 percent of the ski area's electricity use. This will be the second wind turbine in Vermont, after Bolton Valley installed one in September 2009. Massachusetts' Jiminy Peak and Berkshire East are the only other ski areas in the U.S. that currently have operating wind turbines, and in Canada, there's just one, at Vancouver's Grouse Mountain.

Although other ski areas in Vermont are considering building turbines, few have been able to finalize plans. "We are seeing a sharp rise in interest, especially for smaller turbines -- like the one Burke is going to install, but not a lot of actual installations," said Andrew Perchlik, the director of Vermont's Clean Energy Development Fund, which helped fund Bolton and Burke's turbine. "Permitting is very stringent in Vermont and some ski areas are on federal or state land or near protected areas and that makes permitting difficult."

Burke attempted to install their 121-foot-tall turbine last fall, but winter came before they could get it up, so installation is scheduled for the coming months. Bolton, which currently has a 121-foot turbine that produces around 300,000 kilowatt hours annually, has applied for a loan to install a larger turbine, similar to the one at Jiminy Peak, which produces 4.6 million kilowatt hours each year and powers a third of the resort's electrical use.

"I do think wind turbines will be more prevalent at ski resorts in the future," says Josh Arneson, Bolton Valley's director of marketing. "Ski resorts are great locations for wind turbines because in most cases infrastructure such as roads and power lines already exist on the mountain."

When Bolton first installed the turbine in 2009, the blades were icing up during heavy snow, but this year, they added heated electrical coils inside the blades, which, according to Arneson, seemed to solve the problem. "I think that if Bolton can figure out a solution to the icing issue and Burke's turbine is a success then we will see other ski areas follow suit," says Perchlik. "I think some are sitting back to see how it goes with these other sites both technically and as well as public acceptance."

No ski areas in the Western U.S. currently have a wind turbine. "The reason, in part, is access and topography," says Auden Schendler, the vice president of sustainability at Colorado's Aspen Skiing Company and author of the book, Getting Green Done: Hard Truths from the Front Lines of the Sustainability Revolution. "There's a reason wind farms are on the plains -- you get this consistent flow of air. In the mountains, wind is too choppy, so the smaller mountains are more suited, plus you can access the peaks more easily. Also note that energy prices in the East are typically higher, meaning it's more cost effective to install turbines."