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Kirkwood investing in the Future with Renewable Energy

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Kirkwood, Calif.

–Kirkwood Mountain Resort, looking to take a resort industry leadership position in the renewable energy field, has partnered with its utility provider, Mountain Utilities, to aggressively pursue the installation of renewable energy resources in the Kirkwood Valley. The current challenges in the global energy markets, when coupled with Kirkwood’s remote situation have created a unique opportunity to explore alternative forms of energy for the resort and residents in the community. Mountain Utilities’ status as a regulated public utility combined with its reliance on fossil fuels for generation sources has attracted the interest of a number of innovative technology companies providing renewable energy solutions. This climate has created an ideal opportunity for Kirkwood to make what amounts to a substantial investment in its future both environmentally and financially.

“Our goal is for Kirkwood to become the renewable energy leader in the ski resort industry,” said Tim Cohee, Chief Marketing Officer of Mountainsprings Kirkwood, the parent company in Kirkwood. “It will take a significant commitment not only from the resort and power companies, but from our residents, guests and regulatory partners including the Forest Service. That said, I cannot imagine anything more important for us as an industry at this point.”

The resort has signed a letter of intent with Synergy Power Corporation to install 20 wind turbines (S-300 Model Synergy Wind Turbines) capable of generating 600 kW of instantaneous delivery and a total daily delivery of 6,000 kWh – over 20% of the total demand from both the commercial and residential operations. Synergy Power is a Reno, Nevada based company that has its roots in providing distribution system-ready wind power in remote locations. Its current technology has been deployed in areas such as the Australian Outback, and sub-Saharan Africa. Kirkwood would be one of the first domestic installations.

David Likins, the senior executive for both MU and Kirkwood Mountain Resort noted, “We’ve had countless number of firms contact us about providing wind energy but none of them had a low profile technology that could handle the tremendous winds and snow accumulation that we see here in Kirkwood. Synergy, which approached us at the recommendation of Sierra Pacific Power, has a very unique technology and turbine design that might work in this environment. There are still significant complications, not the least of which is identifying suitable locations for the turbines and integrating them into the local grid, but we are encouraged with progress to date.”

The proposed installation would equate to meeting approximately 20% of the overall energy demands of the entire Kirkwood Valley. The resort had a prototype of the wind turbine on hand as part of its Environmental Day Expo at Kirkwood on Sunday, July 6th in the Mountain Village Plaza.

In addition to the wind turbine project, the partnership aims to establish the Synergy Sustainability Institute at Kirkwood, a global high altitude renewable energy research campus. Synergy is partnered with both University of Nevada Reno and Cal Poly San Luis Obispo in ongoing research into improvements in wind power efficiency.

The United States Forest Service has shown a distinct interest in Synergy’s proposed project as the federal government has been working with other agencies and enterprises to help with the energy crisis. That said, any project involving federal lands requires extensive permitting and project proponents must be sensitive to any impacts, including visual impacts that might be involved. While Synergy was initially hoping for a 2008 installation, those plans have been moved to 2009 to allow for additional permitting work.

The resort has also entered into an agreement with True Energy of Carlsbad, CA to install an innovatiive Waste Heat Generation and Conservation program that utilizes retro-fitted electricity generators to capture heat that typically escapes from normal machinery operation. The process uses an Organic Rankine Cycle (ORC) with a patented, environmentally sound refrigerant mixture that converts heat to electricity at temperatures as low as 150 degrees Fahrenheit. The process is essentially using waste heat from Mountain Utilities’ current exhaust stack to generate steam based electricity to improve the electrical efficiency of the current carbon based generation by 20%.

Wayne Amer, President of Mountain Utilities commented, “True Energy’s waste heat recovery technology is incredibly simple in its application and yet it provides significant benefits to our system and customers. The microturbine technology is a critical ingredient to making the other renewable technologies work with the system. This is very exciting.”

When combined with a series of propane or natural gas based microturbines, the True Energy process may potentially provide 1.2 Megawatts of additional power at a fraction of the current system costs – all while producing exhaust with less than 4 parts per million – an almost pure exhaust by comparison of fossil fuel standards. The proposed partnership would be a Power Purchase Agreement where MU acquires power from True Energy at a fixed cost.

“Kirkwood has been an active sponsor of the sustainable energy efforts, supporting solar net metering and other small scale installations, but the technology wasn’t ready for this environment or the numbers simply didn’t make sense,” said Likins. “Now we find ourselves in a situation where not only does this make sense as good stewards to the environment, but fiscally we are looking at an immediate reduction in energy costs and an important long-term capital investment in infrastructure. With the capital markets supporting these alternative technologies, places like Kirkwood that have higher underlying energy costs become viable very quickly. I expect to close these deals and potentially see a biomass operation and a solar installation on the drawing board within the year. We see others in our industry purchasing renewable credits off the grid for a few pennies a kilowatt hour over their wholesale rates and that is very different than our opportunities in Kirkwood to enter into full production and operation of renewable technologies via power purchase agreements.”

Kirkwood’s environmental initiatives over the last few years have included a valley-wide focus on energy conservation, recycling and waste reduction. Energy efficient retrofits and recent conservation efforts have reduced the resort’s overall energy consumption by over 35% (more than 2.5 million Kilowatt hours) while improved recycling methods have diverted more than 67% of the overall waste stream by volume. With an eye on reducing pollution, traffic, and gas consumption, Kirkwood launched an industry first, highly successful online carpool forum to increase ridesharing to the resort that was responsible for taking over 1,000 cars off the road. A unique variation on the traditional blog, this forum is being upgraded with state grant money and will serve as the focal piece of Kirkwood’s incentivized rideshare program for the upcoming ski season. Kirkwood also continued its funding project with the National Forest Foundation (NFF), the congressionally chartered nonprofit partner of the U.S. Forest Service and with the Green Tags program to support the Bonneville Foundation.