Have you ever taken advantage of rebates to help replace your old refrigerator or air conditioner with a more energy-efficient one? Local utilities and governments offer similar incentive programs to businesses, including ski areas in Vermont and Maine.
Efficiency Vermont, the state program to help households and businesses reduce energy costs, rolled out Vermont’s Great Snow Gun Roundup this summer. The Roundup encouraged ski areas to upgrade their snowmaking systems by providing rebates for the purchase of newer, low energy models of snow guns. Similarly, Efficiency Maine modified its snow gun rebate program to include a lower threshold for kilowatt-hour savings, which effectively opened the program up to smaller ski areas in the state.
The technology and efficiency of snowmaking guns has increased exponentially in the past decade. Companies like HKD Snowmakers, Ratnik, Techno Alpin, and SMI have developed advancements that use up to 85 percent less energy, while at the same time producing more snow, compared to older snow guns. But just like you and your old, inefficient refrigerator, some ski areas still needed a nudge to swap out their existing snowmaking guns for the newer, more efficient ones.
“There were still so many old guns in use at the mountains that we felt there was a need for an aggressive program to help transform the market and eliminate the old technology,” said Mike Leonard, Senior Account Manager for Efficiency Vermont.
Parker Riehle, Executive Director of Ski Vermont, saw the program as an excellent way to augment statewide efficiency efforts by the ski industry, while “helping the resorts be even more productive with their snowmaking coverage.”
Over 2,200 new high efficiency snow guns were purchased through the Vermont program, with ski areas like Killington, Mount Snow, Sugarbush, Stowe, and Stratton all participating. 1,800 old snow guns were turned in, which were then salvaged for scrap metal. The proceeds from recycling the aluminum, brass and steel in the old guns were donated to Ski Vermont’s Learn to Turn programs.
Annual energy savings from the Vermont swap are estimated at 10,500 mega-watts of electricity – the amount that would be needed to power an electric car like the Nissan Leaf for 35 million miles, or around the earth more than 1,400 times!
Maine’s buyback program has similar goals. According to Greg Sweetser, Executive Director of Ski Maine, it aims at “replacing the old ‘air hogs’ that are still working fine but operate at high energy costs.” The swap is accelerating the replacement of the older, inefficient snow guns at ski areas in Maine, resulting in lower operational costs and less kilowatt hours consumed. “Ski areas will be able to stretch their snowmaking budgets and make more snow per dollar,” summed up Sweeter in describing the benefits of the plan.
Maine’s Shawnee Peak has worked with Efficiency Maine on other projects in recent years, including replacing snowmaking drives and converting lighting into energy in the base lodge. Partnering with Efficiency Maine this summer to upgrade to low energy guns was a “no-brainer,” said Chet Homer, owner of Shawnee Peak. “We get help with a major capital expenditure that reduces our annual operating expenses. Our guests will benefit because we’ll be able to get terrain open quicker at the start of the season.”
Sugarloaf replaced 60 snow guns this year, bringing its three-year total to nearly 600 new low energy snow guns (now representing 90 percent of the snowmaking inventory). “Sugarloaf participates in the Efficiency Maine program because we want to conserve energy. In the early season, we are able to use all of our water capacity but use less air, which results in using less Kilowatt-hours,” observed Dan Barker, Sugarloaf’s Snow Surfaces Manager.
While the concept for this type of incentive isn’t new, it hadn’t previously been applied in the ski industry. “Efficiency Vermont has had similar programs in place for different markets, so the idea of putting an incentive for trading in an old outdated technology to purchase a new more efficient technology wasn’t really new,” noted Leonard.
Beyond Vermont and Maine, two other energy efficiency utility programs in New England are also considering a snow gun buyback plan. The reduced energy usage and smaller carbon footprint are important benefits of these trade-in programs.
The energy efficient snow guns can make snow at higher temperatures and are more responsive, which enables ski areas to make snow more quickly and cover more terrain faster than ever before. That means your favorite trail can open earlier in the season and offer a more consistent snow surface throughout the winter – a real bonus for snowboarders and skiers in both states, and way more fun than a new refrigerator.