Winter-green

Story by Chris Graham
freepress2@ntelos.net

So you want to go green, and you’ve taken some steps by improving energy efficiency around the home and office, cutting unnecessary travel and the rest.
But you feel like you can do more.
“I think most Americans are looking at the sort of things that they do, and a lot of industries as well, and are thinking about the future,” said Jay Roberts, the vice president of mountain operations at Wintergreen Resort in Nelson County, which recently made the news for its decision to purchase 791,652 kilowatt hours of energy credits from Renewable Choice Energy encompassing various sources – including wind, biomass and hydroelectric. The purchase is estimated to be equivalent to avoiding the emissions of 107,653 pounds of coal or reducing car mileage by 1.2 million miles.

“We’re all users of power; we’re all waste-providers, if you will,” Roberts told “The New Dominion Show” last month. “What renewable-energy credits did for us, what we were able to do as a company, was recognize that we use an enormous amount of power at the resort – and if we could offset some of that power usage with renewable energy, it was a no-brainer, it was a good thing. It was good for the environment, it was good for our future generations – it was just good for business.”

So this sounded all good to me – but I still had no idea what it means to say that one has purchased energy credits, and what that itself means as far as any potential impact on the environment.

“What Wintergreen did was we identified a certain number of kilowatts that we use – let’s say Wintergreen uses a million kilowatts – and contract with a company that sells renewable energy credits into the power grid, and said, We would like to buy enough renewable-energy credits to offset that power usage,” Roberts said.

“It is more expensive for a wind turbine to produce energy than a coal-fired power plant. So as a consumer, if you’re paying eight cents a kilowatt for coal-fired power plant power, wind power is going to be more expensive. So the majority of us buy power as cheap as we can get it. Power companies buy power as cheap as they can get it. But as long as wind power is unable to compete with coal power, then it is really hard for renewable energy to get a foothold in the market and for new renewable-energy sources to come online. They have a disadvantage,” Roberts said.

“So what we have the ability to do is to go to these companies that sell these energy credits and say, You know what, we’re willing to pay a little extra for our power. We’re actually willing to pay 10 cents instead of eight cents – because it matters to us. So we’ll go ahead and pay the difference between what you can provide renewable power for and the power that we currently buy – and you go ahead and generate that power and put it into the power grid,” Roberts said.

“What consumers can’t do unless you have a power plant on-site like a wind turbine is it’s impossible for me to go out and say, The power that I am using right now to run my computer is renewable. What I can do is say, The power that my computer uses over the course of a year’s time, I’m willing to provide money to a renewable-energy provider that allows them to sell their power into the marketplace at a rate that is sellable. So what we’re doing essentially is saying, We use x number of kilowatts, we’re going to go ahead and purchase that and put it in the grid as a renewable-energy source. Everyone reaps the benefits,” Roberts said.

It’s an interesting concept – and one that is probably good for business for an outdoor-sports company like Wintergreen, I said to Roberts during our radio-show interview.

“It’s good for business, it’s good for the environment, and it’s good for future generations. It’s a no-brainer for us,” Roberts said. “Wintergreen has, since it was founded in 1976, it has always been environmentally-conscious. It’s a close to 11,000-acre property. Close to 6,000 acres are set aside for conservancy – they’re open space, they won’t be developed. We manage our golf courses with the environment in mind. We try to operate as environmentally-friendly as we can.

“And for us, just going to the power company and saying, Hey, we’d be willing to pay more for our power – they’d just buy more nonrenewable power. But by going to these companies and saying, We would like to pay more for our power, what’s the difference between nonrenewable and renewable, and we’ll pay you the difference, so that you can sell your power to the power grid, and we’ve offset our power usage,” Roberts said.

   

Chris Graham is the executive editor of The Augusta Free Press.

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