For their senior projects, Steamboat Springs High School students Chrissy Ford and Ben Paley studied the feasibility of installing wind turbines to power chair lifts on Mount Werner.

Photo by Matt Stensland

For their senior projects, Steamboat Springs High School students Chrissy Ford and Ben Paley studied the feasibility of installing wind turbines to power chair lifts on Mount Werner.

2 high school seniors present energy study to Ski Corp.

SSHS graduation is 2 p.m. Saturday


If you go

What: Steamboat Springs High School graduation ceremony

When: 2 p.m. Saturday, doors open at 1:30 p.m. Baccalaureate precedes the ceremony at 12:30 p.m. in the high school auditorium. Overflow parking will be available in the Wells Fargo parking lot with shuttle buses running to the high school starting at 12:15 p.m.

Where: Steamboat Springs High School gymnasium

Yampa Valley School

The three-member Yampa Valley School Class of 2009 graduates at 2 p.m. today in Yampa River Botanic Park. The school, which provides students a second chance in an alternative educational environment, will grant diplomas to Cole Breland, Josie Pacana and Rae Steele. A celebration reception will follow the ceremony at the Yampa Valley School in the George P. Sauer Human Services Center on Seventh Street.


Steamboat Springs High School seniors cheer Thursday during an assembly in their honor in Kelly Meek Gymnasium. It was the last day of school for seniors.


Steamboat Springs High School senior River Loughran, right, sings a song for his classmates along with junior Noah Pfaff on Thursday.

— Chrissy Ford and Ben Paley wanted to do something practical for their senior project. And they wanted to do something green.

Ford and Paley, who will graduate with the 120 other members of the Steamboat Springs High School Class of 2009 at 2 p.m. Saturday in the school's gymnasium, decided to study the feasibility of using wind energy to produce electricity for the Storm Peak Express and Morningside chair lifts at Steamboat Ski Area.

Their inspiration came from a magazine article describing the successful implementation of a wind turbine at Jiminy Peak Mountain Resort in Hancock, Mass. The turbine now powers one third of the mountain's annual electricity.

They thought, "Why not do it here?" Ford recalled.

"We decided our objective was to present our idea to the mountain," Paley said.

They did just that, compiling the necessary numbers and statistics to prepare a business presentation for Steamboat Ski and Resort Corp. officials.

The research

Ford and Paley first went to the National Renewable Energy Laboratory in Golden to learn about wind turbines, which convert kinetic energy into electricity.

To see whether wind energy would be feasible on Mount Werner, they visited Storm Peak Laboratory at the summit of the ski area, which has kept wind databases since 1992.

After discovering that there was enough wind at average speeds of 13 to 15 mph to provide a significant amount of electricity for the mountain, Ford and Paley worked with the U.S. Forest Service to figure out which of the two kinds of turbine - horizontal, which looks like a propeller affixed to a tower and is the most common, or vertical, which the students modeled after a Forest Service turbine in Yampa - was least harmful to birds.

They then narrowed down a list of contractors to Infin8 Solutions, of Castro Valley, Calif., to develop a business plan. The plan included the cost and payoff for two turbines - 50 kilowatt (50 feet tall) and 100 kilowatt (100 feet tall) - that would be located near Storm Peak Laboratory and the radio tower.

"One of the things they found is that Steamboat is in a perfect wind zone for this," said Eric Nilsson, a science and math teacher at the high school and Ford and Paley's adviser for the project. "It's definitely feasible, technically and financially."

The industry

Wind power, which became viable in the early 1980s in California and really took off in the late 1990s, is the fastest-growing form of energy generation in the world, said Robert Thresher, director of the NREL's National Wind Technology Center.

"Of all the renewable resources with low carbon footprints, which people are looking for right now, wind is the cheapest," he said.

But he said it's also one of the smallest energy sources in the U.S., with less than 2 percent of the country's electricity produced by wind. Thresher said the country produces about as much energy from wind as it does from 25 coal-fired power plants. According to the Energy Information Administration, the statistical agency of the U.S. Department of Energy, more than 600 facilities burned coal to produce nearly half the country's electricity in 2007.

Nearly one third of the country's wind turbines are in Texas, and by comparison, about 4 percent are in Colorado, Thresher said.

But citing a recent report by the Department of Energy, NREL and American Wind Energy Association, Thresher said it's possible that 20 percent of the country's energy could be generated by wind.

Thresher said the biggest hurdles for wind energy are finding sites and transmitting the produced electricity. The recession has hampered the growth of the wind industry, he said.

The pitch

Last week, Ford and Paley presented their project to Ski Corp.

Doug Allen, vice president of mountain operations, said he had been charged with exploring the possibility of wind energy, but Ford and Paley provided him with some information he didn't know.

They calculated the cost of the two turbines at $448,000 and the return on investment at about 10 years. But with grants, Ford and Paley said, the cost could be reduced by $200,000, and the time for seeing a return on the investment would be more than cut in half.

The best part of the proposal, they said, was annual savings for Ski Corp. of more than $43,000.

Allen said he appreciated Ford and Paley's study. He said the information presented was useful because Ski Corp. is interested in the potential of wind energy on the mountain. But Allen couldn't say if or when it would happen.

"With the markets the way they are and the capital available, I couldn't commit to a timeline when this project would be undertaken," he said.

Ford said the goal of their project was to actually have an effect on Mount Werner.

"Our main goal was to get the idea out there and information to them," she said. "I feel like we reached our goal in that sense. It wasn't to get a turbine up there, maybe in a couple of years. Our goal was to get awareness to them, and I thought we did that."

Next year, both will study engineering in college, Ford at California Polytechnic State University and Paley at Colorado School of Mines. Ford and Paley said they hope to see wind turbines on the mountain when they return home for winter break sometime in the coming years.


trump_suit 7 years, 11 months ago

With an investment return of only 5-10 years, how can anyone deny that we should be investing more heavily in these kinds of technologies.


greenwash 7 years, 11 months ago

I agree jk... Who cares about our natural environment.


greenwash 7 years, 11 months ago

We all know this isnt rocket science.Turbines could be a potential eyesore?What effect could it have on wildlife in the area?Mabye none of this matters... Obviously Base area design regulations have been tossed out the door so build a wind farm on top of Storm Peak.


jk 7 years, 11 months ago

Give me a break greenwash the wildlife doesn't care about all of the lifts, lift houses, roads,and the weather observatory that are already there. I can see the bears running away right now aahhh what is that thing aaahhhh I better go break into someones house and steal their honey to ease the trauma.


Fred Duckels 7 years, 11 months ago

When the wind blows and no power is used at the mountain, the turbines will feed power back into the system. This is a loser for the energy suppliers as they must buy the power, but they are already running in full production to meet normal needs. The wind spikes net benefit is very small and must be considered when evaluating a system. The supplier has to pay for power that is of little or no value to them.


jk 7 years, 11 months ago

Not my point at all greenwash, I just don't think the whole idea of producing a little green energy should be scrapped because we are afraid of upsetting a few squirrels for awhile. They will get used to it just like they have gotten used to everything else that is already there.


trump_suit 7 years, 11 months ago


In one way you are correct that the utility has to purchase energy that may or may not be needed. The problem is that their current production is based on burning coal which has associated expenses and costs to the environment.

If our county wants to reduce its dependancy on imported oil, and fossil fuels, these are the kinds of projects to start with. The more projects that come online, the better the infrastructure will become to support them.

Solar/Wind energy is a LONG ways from supplying our basic needs, but it is time to start the process in a serious way. One of the BIG needs is an electrical grid that is capable of moving the excess energy from where it is created to where it is needed. In my opinion, that is the kind of investment that the Gov't needs to make.


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