The oldest ski mountain in Maine is taking big steps toward a clean energy future. Shawnee Peak in Bridgton installed two solar arrays at the base of the 256-acre mountain – one on top of the East Base Lodge and one on the Ski Wee building. Chet and Geoffrey Homer, the father-son team who has owned the resort since 1994, have been dreaming about solar for some time. Speaking recently about their decision to go solar, Geoffrey Homer said, “My father, Chet, and I have long wanted to have a solar plant at Shawnee Peak and we had many dialogues with [ReVision co-founder] Phil Coupe over the years! We’ve long felt it would be beneficial for the mountain and hopefully something that our customers will appreciate.”
Ski resorts are notoriously high energy consumers. Chairlifts, snow-making equipment, cafeteria kitchens, and high-tech ticket scanners all add up to create an impressively high electric bill, with variable spikes and surges. Add in the lights illuminating Shawnee’s famous night-skiing trails and you have a pretty hefty energy demand. The two solar arrays, installed the second week of October, will provide 32,991 kilowatt-hours a year of clean energy. This is the amount of energy required to light a house for 55 years, drive around New England 92 times, or make 1,759,520 cups of hot cocoa for that perfect mid-morning ski break!
Although the Homers had wanted to install solar for a while, the cost of the system had been too big a hurdle for a while. “We look at everything we do from an investment standpoint and up until now, the project economics were not favorable,” admitted Geoff Homer, “however, the declining costs . . . made it possible to go to the next step. Locking in our energy costs for the foreseeable future was also quite attractive.”
Solar prices have dropped 75% in the past ten years, making it easier for small family-owned businesses like Shawnee Peak to transition to renewable energy. Shawnee Peak also received a grant from the Rural Energy for America Program (REAP), which helped with the upfront cost. REAP grants are administered through the US Department of Agriculture and provide assistance to rural small businesses to construct renewable energy systems and other energy efficiency projects. Homer praises the program, saying, “The REAP grant was essential to the project and the team at ReVision Energy was very helpful in helping us navigate the entire process.” The project will ultimately save the resort more than $160,000 over the 40-year lifespan of the system.
The impacts of climate change are being felt across the country, but they are hitting the snow sports industry especially hard. According to a study by the nonprofit Protect Our Winters, low snow years have cost the ski industry over $1 billion and 17,400 jobs since 2001.
While resorts are working to adapt to changing seasons, it is also crucial that they reduce their energy consumption and transition away from the fossil fuels that cause climate change. “If they want to be able to survive as a ski resort, maintain the levels of snow that are critical, we have to get off of fossil fuels,” Marta Stoepker, who works on the Sierra Club’s Beyond Coal Campaign, said in this Powder Magazine article. “They [ski resorts] have a vested interest in this.”
Fortunately Shawnee Peak is committed to this type of forward-looking sustainability. In 2017 they won a “Champion of Snow” award from the Boston-based Climate Action Business Association, they have switched most of their lights to LEDs, and their new solar systems will offset 34,739 pounds of carbon annually. “We are always looking for ways to be more conscious of our footprint and while we believe we are very energy efficient, particularly for a ski area, there are always more things we can do better. One step at a time!