As if it wasn’t already hard enough to run an independent, family owned ski business, rising energy prices can put a chokehold on the whole operation. One ski family in Massachusetts has found a way to survive. The Berkshire East Ski Area has apparently become the first ski area in the whole world to generate more than 100% of its power onsite, from wind turbines, freeing itself from the vagaries of global energy markets. It’s a great model for U.S. energy independence, but this is no Galtish tale of an individual with a vision going it alone. There was plenty of help along the way…
Wind Turbines and Pesky Meddling Government Subsidies
It’s no secret that the fossil fuel industry is heavily subsidized by taxpayers (it takes a village, right?), including the fact that it chips in virtually nothing for the cost of its public health impacts. So, what’s a few bucks here and there for alternative energy? Berkshire’s new 900-kilowatt wind turbine was made possible by state and federal grants including $440,000 from the Massachusetts Clean Energy Center, which administers the state’s Renewable Energy Trust Fund. Come to think of it, public trust funds for land preservation have been popular for years, so public support for environmentally beneficial alternative energy programs is not some new and exotic thing.
Ski Areas and Environmental Benefits
Of course, there’s a big difference between taxpayer support for fossil fuels and support for alternative energy. In the case of existing recreation facilities like Berkshire East, which maintain and preserve natural areas as part of their business model, alternative energy can be the key to financial survival while helping to preserve land from being developed for other uses (housing, shopping malls, etc.). For fossil fuels, it’s just the opposite. Taxpayer subsidies go to operations that destroy virgin land and can severely impact local communities. In the case of U.S. coal exports it’s particularly galling to know that public subsidies are underwriting the destruction of our natural heritage and rural communities in order to fuel factories (and jobs) overseas.
Wind Turbines and Good Neighbors
This is not to say that any alternative energy installation is impact-free, and Cleantechnica readers have discussed at length the issue of appropriate siting for wind turbines. In the case of Berkshire East it will be interesting to see if any issues arise from the installation, but in any case the company has taken steps to provide some upfront community benefits. It has committed to an annual scholarship at a nearby school and to a historic preservation fund for local buildings. The company will also install an educational station at the school and donate its renewable energy credits to offset the school’s energy budget.
Image: Ski area by laffertyryan on flickr.com.
Tina Casey specializes in military and corporate sustainability, advanced technology, emerging materials, biofuels, and water and wastewater issues. Tina’s articles are reposted frequently on Reuters, Scientific American, and many other sites. You can also follow her on Twitter @TinaMCasey and Google+.