LITTLE COTTONWOOD CANYON — A new cogeneration system at Snowbird Resort is set to go online next month and will have the ability to make energy production more efficient and produce up to 90% to 100% of the resort's power needs depending on the season.
Hospitals have, for years, used cogeneration systems to continue functions when even when the power in the community around them is out. Snowbird first installed a similar cogeneration power system in 1986.
Sarah Sherman, communications manager for Snowbird Resort, explained that the resort can keep staff and visitors safe if there's a road closure or a "crazy weather event" that secludes people.
"We're able to be self-sufficient off the grid if needed," she said.
The old system ended up working much longer than anyone at the resort expected. Snowbird officials, at the time, believed the system would buy them 120,000 hours before they needed to replace the generators, Sherman said. They ended up getting close to 300,000 hours out of it.
It will soon be replaced by a 5.3-megawatt cogeneration system that's believed to be about 60% more efficient than the one set up in 1986. That's because the new system adds a new feature that cuts out the need to power facilities and heat them too; instead, it does it all at the same time.
It's something that doesn't exist at any other ski resort in North America, Sherman said. The system alone is expected to power all of Snowbird's energy needs during the summer months and up to 90% of needs during the winter months.
Here's how it works: Natural gas is pumped to a cogeneration plant at the resort. The gas is then used to power a generator that powers electricity for the buildings and trams scattered across the resort. Meanwhile, the heat produced by the generators goes into a unit that ends up heating the hotels at the resort.
"That's how we keep the rooms warm. That's how we heat a lot of the buildings," Sherman said. "If you're in the Cliff Spa, that's how the pool is heated."
Dave Fields, the resort's general manager, says the new system will ultimately cut 62,000 dekatherms of natural gas use each year, which is the same as removing carbon emissions from about 4 million pounds of coal burned or taking 789 vehicles off the roads.
"We feel really strongly that by doing this we're able to cut our carbon emissions and we're proud to be doing that," Sherman said. "The environment is really important to us up in Little Cottonwood Canyon. We rely on snow and we want to keep getting snow, and anything we can do to be working in that direction is important to us."
The first generator from the new system will go online July 9 during a ceremony with state officials. The rest of the system will start up shortly after that.