Kirkwood grid project near completion
Special to the Tribune
On Nov. 1 the Kirkwood Meadows Public Utility District (KMPUD), which serves the Kirkwood, Calf. community and Vail’s Kirkwood Mountain Resort, commissioned and energized a 10 megawatt, 28-mile electrical transmission line connecting the area to the Western electric grid at Pacific Gas & Electric’s (P,G & E) Salt Springs substation. This nearly completes a nine-year capital project that cost approximately $38 million, and was made possible only through several key partnerships. The combination underground and overhead project, including two new substations, was completed on time and on budget, and it has been operating since commissioning. The results are cleaner energy by eliminating Kirkwood’s diesel emissions in the Eldorado National Forest, greater reliability for homeowners and resort operations, improved safety, cost effective access to renewable energy, and more stable electricity rates – which are projected to decline in future years. The ski resort and Kirkwood community consume approximately seven gigawatt hours of electricity annually; when converted from diesel generation to the electrical grid supply, approximately 2,700 pounds of annual NOx emissions are eliminated in the Eldorado National Forest. Operational reliability and thus customer experience are expected to improve as power outages due to diesel generator complications are eliminated. Safety will be improved through the elimination of handling and transportation on mountain highways of diesel fuels and ammonia emissions control supplies.
This unique and challenging infrastructure project was made possible by the Rural Utilities Service (RUS) branch of the U.S. Department of Agriculture, which provided the financing with primarily 35-year loans with a weighted average cost of capital slightly less than 3.0 percent. Key partners include the U.S. Forest Service/Amador Ranger District, Caltrans, Amador County Public Works, Volcano Telecommunications, and PG&E. Multiple agencies were involved in the planning, environmental and permitting stages, including the Army Corps of Engineers, Department of Fish & Game, Central Valley Water Quality Control Board and the Federal Energy Regulatory Commission. KMPUD has also partnered with the California Independent System Operator (CAISO), the regulatory body that oversees real time power demand in the state.
“We are pleased to complete this long-term capital project on time and on budget. It was initiated to improve the reliability of our infrastructure, reduce our customers’ electricity rates, and reduce environmental impacts. This transmission line is the largest capital investment in Kirkwood’s 42 year history,” said Standish O’Grady, KMPUD Board President. “With this and other upgrades such as fiber optic internet service, Kirkwood now has first-class infrastructure expected by many residents of Silicon Valley, the San Francisco Bay area, and the greater Sacramento and Reno metropolitan areas who know Kirkwood as the best snow, skiing, and riding in the northern Sierra Nevada.”
“KMPUD has been a tremendous partner since we acquired Kirkwood in April 2012,” said Casey Blann, Kirkwood’s general manager. “This joint effort to connect Kirkwood to the grid meets our guests’ expectations in terms of reliable and professional operation, and fits with Vail Resorts’ ongoing corporate commitment to run an increasingly environmentally sustainable business. We look forward to partnering with KMPUD on many other projects of this nature.”
“Eliminating the diesel generators significantly lowers our greenhouse gas emissions, and connecting to the Western grid allows KMPUD and its customers to purchase renewable energy from a variety of sources. Kirkwood can now do its share in helping California provide leadership in addressing climate change,” said Bob Epstein, KMPUD Board member and Co-founder of Environmental Entrepreneurs. “Additional environmental sustainability opportunities are available to both individual and larger scale purchasers of renewable energy credits (RECS) currently available at attractive prices.”
“We are thrilled that Kirkwood has connected to the electric grid and turned off the diesel generators in the Great Basin and national forest,” said Ted Schade, Officer of Great Basin Unified Air Pollution Control District (Great Basin). Great Basin is the California regional government agency that regulates air pollution in Alpine, Mono and Inyo counties by enforcing federal, state and local air quality regulations to ensure air quality standards are met. “In fact, the plan to connect to the electric grid was part of Kirkwood’s original application to create a new ski resort when it was approved more than 40 years ago. Some things just take time, creativity, and perseverance.” Instrumental in completing the project were Resource Concepts, Inc. (environmental, permitting and project management), Exponential Engineering Co. (electrical design & engineering), Q&D Construction Co. (underground portion); and Wilson Construction Co. (overhead and substations).
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