Conserving Energy at Ski Resort- Jim MacInnes; Crystal Mountain

Crystal Mountain is a 1500-acre resort located in Benzie County in Northwestern Lower Michigan. And we’re a year-round resort, so we’re in the ski business, the golf business, meeting and conference business. We have a spa, the Midwest’s first LEED certified spa, an outdoor waterpark, an alpine slide. We have a lot of things to do here. We primarily cater to families. And we have about 600 employees that work here. And people come from all over the Midwest. And really we’ve had people from all over the world come to Crystal Mountain for one reason or another. We use about $1.3 million dollars’ worth of energy each year in the form of propane gas and electricity. And then we also use some gasoline and diesel fuel too for some of our slope vehicles. So it’s a pretty significant cost to us. And we’re concerned about the cost of energy going up over time. And so it’s really important to us to take steps to reduce our consumption of energy.

So one of the first things we did… Actually we did it about 7 or 8 years ago, is we do what’s called demand response. What we actually do is during the expensive part of the energy curve… There’s about a 15-minute period each time during the month when we’re making snow in the winter, when we draw the most energy, we actually shut down our whole snow‑making system, the snow guns and pumping system and everything for a couple-of‑hour period. And we were actually able to save over $40,000 in a month.

Some other things we’ve done with making snow is we have a series of pipes that are located throughout the hill to, bring the water to our snow guns. We have about 90 acres of terrain that we can make snow on. So when we put in the new pipes, we put in larger diameter pipes. These pipes, when we pump the water, because they’re larger diameter have less friction loss. For example, about two years ago I put in a 12-inch pipe that was about 600 feet long. We looked at the water flow through the pipe at full flow and we’re actually able to save about 200 horsepower of pumping power by adding that pipe and pumping the water through the larger pipe.

In 2009 we built the Crystal Spa, which is an 18,000-square-foot building, the Midwest’s first LEED certified spa. One of the things we’re able to do with the Crystal Spa is we’re actually able to conserve a lot of energy with it. The way we do that is we take the heat from the indoor pool facility that’s part of the spa. We keep the indoor pool air temperature at about 85 degrees. But we have to also exhaust that air and bring in fresh air. So before we exhaust it, we pull the heat out of it, and pump it into a heat exchanger loop, and we pump the heat down into the spa rooms. So that’s how we heat the spa rooms.

Another thing we did is we decided to replace some of the lighting in our conference facility, called the Crystal Center. The Crystal Center is a 33,000-square-foot building, and we built it in 1994. When we built it, we put in hundreds of 150-watt, dimmable incandescent lights. Then recently, about two years ago, we replaced all those lights with 13-watt, dimmable LED lights. Also we were actually able to save about 75,000 kilowatt hours of electricity each year. And beyond the electricity savings, we’re able to save money on the changing of the light bulbs because they last about 10 or 15 times longer than a conventional light bulb. Also, when we changed out the light bulbs, they don’t generate as much heat. So our air conditioning system, we’re able to reduce the consumption of energy for cooling in the summer, that saved us additional money and energy. For example, just this one building, the energy savings in this building will power my Chevy Volt 250,000 miles a year on electricity, just from this one building and changing out the light bulbs. So it’s a huge savings. The payback on this, without any subsidies (our power company did give us some additional subsidies), but without any subsidies, the payback was about 9 months. Once you pay off the cost of installation, it keeps saving you year after year after year. It’s a tremendous benefit.

Well, we use a lot of LP gas here at Crystal Mountain. As a matter of fact, this last winter some of the load… We buy it in 10,000-gallon truckloads. We took one load, where LP gas was priced at about $40 a million BTU. Now, to put that into perspective, the normal price for natural gas is closer to about $7 or $8 per million BTU. So we have every incentive to reduce our consumption of LP gas. Probably one of the best ways to do that is to make sure your buildings are well insulated. For example, now we’re taking our old lodge that was built in 1960, originally, we’re remodeling the third floor. We put in a special… We broke it all the way down to the studs and were able to spray in a special insulation called icynene insulation that not only is a good insulator for its level of thickness, but it also reduces the air infiltration in a building. So we sprayed the walls with icynene. Then we’re also going to be putting spray batt insulation in the ceiling to really insulate the building. So we’re taking some of our old buildings and when we build a new building, we insulate it very heavily. That helps to reduce the consumption of propane.

There are physical changes that we’re making here in reducing our energy consumption that help our business. And it goes beyond our business to our employees who, you know, take some of these same conversation principles home. But it goes beyond that with future generations who will also be able to enjoy the natural resources that we have today.

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