Killington turns to manure power

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This winter Killington's K-1 gondola will run on cow power.

The largest ski and snowboard destination in the east just added another superlative: This winter Killington will become the first ski resort ever to use Cow Power to run a gondola. A recently announced deal with Green Mountain Power (GMP) of Vermont connects Killington's K-1 Express Gondola directly to electricity generated by cows on area farms -- a renewable form of energy that many mountain-goers haven't heard of yet.

"For the resort, it's simple," says Sarah Thorson, Killington communications manager. "We have the opportunity to support local farms and be more energy efficient. It's a win-win situation for us. For the farmers, it's pretty fantastic as well."

The resort, which already offsets 100 percent of its electricity usage with Renewable Energy Credits and has implemented a suite of innovative energy-efficiency measures, chose to Cow Power the K-1 Gondola because of its iconic and high-profile status at the resort and in the region.

But just how do cows end up providing the approximately 300,000 kwh per year needed to run the K-1? The process, optimized by GMP over the past decade, uses cow manure -- a byproduct of dairy farming that already exists in abundance throughout the state -- as an energy source.

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Changing the game.

Typically, farmers spend additional money to treat and store manure, which off-gases methane, a greenhouse gas responsible for about 20 percent more warming than the usual climate-change culprit, CO2. In the Cow Power program, farmers feed the manure into an anaerobic (oxygen free) digester, producing biogas, which is in turn used to power a natural-gas engine that generates electricity and prevents high-impact methane from entering the atmosphere.

Farmers get paid for the electricity, and an added benefit is that the manure left over in the digester is even more potent as a fertilizer.

Killington plans to expand their use of Cow Power in 2013, says Thorson, using it to light up their new, yet-to-be-built Killington Peak lodge. In the meantime, skiers and riders can look forward to ascending, ahem, "greener" pastures on the K-1 Gondola, and to the probability of a little less of that funky smell coming from farms nearby.

For Thorson, educating the public on where that electricity is coming from is an entertaining perk to the job.

"We love that folks are talking about Cow Power," says Thorson, "and we're also cracking up at cow jokes and embracing them. One of my favorites is, 'Which job is a cow most suited for?' 'Baker. Because they're making cow pies regularly.'"

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