Carbon worries in ski country
Green seems to be the buzzword throughout the media and political landscape these days, and many ski resorts are marketing themselves to environmentally conscious skiers and riders in Tahoe Truckee.
Resorts like Alpine Meadows and Sugar Bowl are buying carbon offsets from dealers like Colorado-based Renewable Choice to make up for the energy they use from traditional sources.
Sierra Pacific Power Company, the main electricity provider Truckee-Tahoe, provides only 8.3 percent renewable energy in its energy portfolio. Since many local ski resorts strive for much “greener” energy use, the ski companies pay to “offset” their dirty fossil fuel use by supporting carbon-free electricity.
“What they are doing is putting a price on the value of a Megawatt hour of generated windpower,” said Ted Rose of Colorado-based Renewable Choice, which sell carbon “offsets” to Boreal Mountain Resort and Alpine Meadows.
Wind-generated electricity is still more expensive to buy than coal energy, Rose said, and utility companies that are the traditional buyers of this source are “resource agnostic” “-buying the cheapest energy they can find.
The money that corporations fork out for the multi-year contracts, he emphasizes, is not a donation to a windfarm, but a building block in the infrastructure of a renewable energy system. The more a windfarm is subsidized, the less costly wind energy becomes, “making wind energy more competitive with fossil fuels.”
An option for individual consumers are green tags, many times appearing in the form of $2 pieces of paper that promise an investment in renewable power generation like wind and solar. Alpine Meadows sold out of the tags this year when they stocked their retail shop with them, said spokeswoman Rachael Woods.
The payment, according to the ski resort’s Web site, has an environmental benefit equal to not driving a car 150 miles.
Skiing is one area Truckee and Tahoe residents can participate, but some say it is not enough. For a lot of folks concerned about their carbon footprint, the renewable portfolio offered by utility companies is too little, too late.
“Personally it ties into what I believe; we are responsible for what we do … if we waited for government to come and kick us in the butt it would never happen,” said Truckee Climate Action Network’s Founding Director Beth Ingalls. “When you are faced with this issue [becoming carbon neutral], you feel paralyzed and you feel helpless and you want to do something immediately. You don’t want to wait for the public utility district to do something.”
The New York Times reported earlier this month that the Federal Trade Commission held the first of a series of hearings on green marketing ” a fast-growing and largely unregulated new form of commerce. In the Times article, the commission reported “growing increasingly concerned that some green marketing assertions were not substantiated. Environmentalists have a word for such misleading advertising: ‘greenwashing.'”
Ingalls, who is an organizer for Earth Day event this year and plans to buy enough offsets to neutralize the carbon use for the entire event, including driving time for organizers, said consumers must research the company before buying.
“The main thing you want to make sure of is third party certification, to make sure your money is actually doing something,” she said. “With mine, the money is actually used toward windfarm and solar energy. That is kind of the same as a cap and trade [system] on the government level.”
“Here’s the thing, most people don’t know that most electricity is generated by burning fossil fuels and it doesn’t have to be that way,” said Rose. “Our utilities are not doing it, we’ve left these decisions to our utilities and they’ve failed ” they’ve failed ” because we are in the 21st century and we [have these] problems with greenhouse gas.”
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