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Methane From Coal Mine Creates Energy For Aspen Ski Company

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The turbine (credit: CBS)

The turbine (credit: CBS)

SOMERSET, Colo. (CBS4) – It’s a first energy producing project of its kind in the United States and it’s helping the environment at the same time.

Methane from an old coal mine near Somerset in Gunnison County is now helping offset the power used by the Aspen Ski Company.

“It’s a resource that is a byproduct of mining and as a mining company we’re in the resource business,” Oxbow Mining Executive Vice President Mike Ludlow said. “As we’ve gotten deeper into the mountain the methane concentrations have continued to increase.”

Most mines just release tons of methane, a harmful greenhouse gas, into the atmosphere.

“Why waste it, capture it, and that’s all we’re doing. We’re burning it in a turbine. Think of a diesel generator that runs on methane and that makes electricity. It goes into the grid and we sell the power,” said Auden Schendler, Aspen Ski Company Vice President of Sustainability.

So far a one-megawatt generator is already up and running. When the project is finished early next year it will produce three megawatts, enough to power 2,000 homes.

The Aspen Ski Company has essentially funded the $6 million project.

“If we’re a ski resort that thinks we ought to be environmentally responsible, you have to do something about power,” Schendler said. “This is clean energy. Actually it’s carbon negative energy equal to what the whole resort uses in a year.”

It’s the only mid-sized methane powered facility in the nation.

“What this says to other coal mines is, you can do this safely, it makes money, why wouldn’t you do it?” Schendler said.

The coal mine obviously has no plans of shutting down anytime soon, and there’s enough methane to produce 17 megawatts of power. The only problem is the electrical grid infrastructure can’t support that much power yet. It’s something that will be worked on in the years to come.

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