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Whistler Blackcomb saving 5 million kilowatt hours a year

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World-class ski resort Whistler Blackcomb is known for many things, including the Peak 2 Peak Gondola. When you're talking about a place that's home to the longest continuous lift system in the world (and the highest of its kind), you don't always think energy efficiency.

But that's exactly what the team at Whistler Blackcomb has done. And despite the huge energy needs that come with a ski resort (think of the 270 snow guns alone), they're racking up big savings: over 5 million kilowatt hours (kWh) each year.

Staged approach makes saving simple

Well, says Allana Williams, Energy Manager for Whistler Blackcomb Holdings Inc., "you do it in stages — and by taking advantage of all the opportunities BC Hydro has to offer."

With annual energy costs running well over $3 million, they needed to do something to reduce costs, so Whistler Blackcomb started working with the BC Hydro Power Smart Partner (PSP) program in 2005. By 2009, they had identified and completed lighting and mechanical system retrofits that were saving more than 2.1 million kilowatt hours (and over $170,000 dollars) a year.

In 2009, they created a dedicated Energy Manager position, "which has been key to our continued success," says Williams. Having a clearly defined position makes it part of the corporate structure. "It's my job to identify energy-saving projects and move them forward, with BC Hydro and internally", she says.

Data from sub-meters offers savings

Williams' first big project turned out to be one of the most important: supervising — along with Electrical and Building Manager Laird Brown — the installation of 26 sub-meters on ski lifts and gondolas, at restaurants and on the snowmaking equipment. The meters offer much more timely and accurate data, helping the team determine the best times to operate equipment in order to save money.

The data has also allowed Whistler Blackcomb to set a five per cent reduction target for electricity and natural gas usage, and they've even tied it to employee bonuses: directors and managers must reach the five per cent target every year to receive their full annual bonus.

Energy assessments add up to awards

To ensure the resort can continue to find new ways to save energy, Williams and Brown have also participated in three Energy Management Assessments (EMAs). Each annual assessment helps pinpoint where they've done well and ideas for improvement, forming the basis for next year's strategic energy plan.

And the results haven't gone unnoticed: the company has been named one of Canada's Greenest Companies by Maclean's magazine four years in a row, won the Golden Eagle Award for Overall Environmental Excellence by a Ski Resort in North America in 2010 and BC Hydro has also ranked Whistler Blackcomb number one in Power Smart Performance for the Hospitality Sector in BC for the past two years. This fall VP Doug Forseth accepted a 2012 Power Smart Excellence Award for leadership in energy management.

Educating employees brings results

As part of the latest stage in Whistler Blackcomb's climb to ever-greater heights of energy efficiency, the company has begun a Workplace Conservation Awareness program, also supported by BC Hydro. "We have a huge turnover in staff every year," says Brown, "so you can't assume your people know about energy-conservation measures, even simple ones like turning out the lights."

Under the pilot, 15 staff members (one from each division) meet monthly to plan conservation awareness events and activities, such as Ugly Sweater Day and a Myths Shattered page to debunk energy myths, like how much electricity it takes to turn electronics on and off, compared to leaving them running.

Thanks in part to the staff input, Williams and her team are working on a five-year project list, pointing to many opportunities for future energy savings.

How much are they saving?

Since 2009, Whistler Blackcomb's savings include:

  • 553,000 kWh a year at the mountain-top Roundhouse restaurant through Continuous Optimization
  • 440,000 kWh a year at the lift stations by changing to energy-efficient lamps
  • Anticipated 647,000 kWh a year everywhere through daily Workplace Conservation Awareness actions.

These and other energy-saving measures will add up to more than 5 million kWh of electricity saved per year, and hundreds of thousands of dollars in cost savings.

About the Power Smart Partner Program

The Power Smart Partner Program helps commercial, government and institutional organizations that spend more than $250,000 a year on electricity integrate long-term energy management into their day-to-day operations.

Power Smart Partners have access to tools to identify energy-saving opportunities, as well as support for a full-time Energy Manager and financial incentives for implementing energy-efficiency projects.

Learn more about the program