MOUNTAIN VILLAGE – It is perhaps the region’s most vital transportation artery, linking the towns of Mountain Village and Telluride and pumping lifeblood into both communities as it jettisons residents and visitors alike on a one-of-a-kind trip over San Sophia Ridge.
Beyond its function as the only free transportation system of its kind in North America, the gondola also stands as a quintessential part of what defines this resort. Now, its caretakers are hoping the communities it sustains will return some of the love, as they launch a new chapter in the Green Gondola fundraising campaign.
“The gondola is such a big part of the Telluride lifestyle,” says Mountain Village’s Environmental Services Director Deanna Drew, likening “the G” to other beloved local institutions, including KOTO community radio. “We’re hoping to reach out to people and get them thinking about what the gondola means to them…and hoping they’ll find a little in their annual budget to donate to its long-term sustainability.”
The Town of Mountain Village launched the Green Gondola Project in 2012, in an effort to reduce the gondola’s overall carbon footprint. Funds collected through the campaign so far will go towards upgrading all lights in Station Telluride at Oak Street and Station Village Parking at Town Hall Plaza, to the tune of $10,750. The new LED lights are expected to reduce the amount of electricity used in the terminals by an average of 70 percent, with another 70 percent savings realized in annual electricity costs. This phase of the Green Gondola Project is scheduled for completion by year-end, with a three-year return on investment.
Green Gondola Project funds also have been used to purchase solar panels from San Miguel Power Association’s new Community Solar Farm in Paradox Valley to produce solar energy to offset Station Telluride’s electricity use. These solar panels will produce about 1,175 watts of electricity annually, roughly three percent of the power needed at the station. The five panels – totaling $3,529 – have a payback period of 16 years with a lifetime savings of $12,221.
Additionally, Green Gondola Project funds will be used to help educate guests about the importance of energy efficiency and alternative energy sources. Interpretive displays highlighting information about clean energy options in our region will be placed adjacent to the gondola terminals and powered by attached solar panels.
“Greening the gondola will ultimately require investments in both efficiencies and alternative energy,” Drew explains. “But we believe it is logical to make the gondola as efficient as possible before making major investments in renewable energy projects that cost more money with potentially less return. Upgrading the lights in our terminals is going to give us the biggest energy savings for the amount of funds currently available.”
Originally, the intent of the Green Gondola Project was to install solar panels on the gondola itself, but Drew said the numbers just didn’t pencil out after permitting and engineering costs were considered and factoring the energy produced compared to the amount of donations raised.
“We still hope to install solar or other alternative energy sources, but a significant amount of funding needs to be raised for those types of projects,” Drew said. “The lighting retrofits are visible, tangible and educational with an extraordinary bang for the buck. It’s a great place to start. For 2013, Green Gondola Project donations will likely be used to continue the lighting upgrade and alternative energy projects at the various gondola facilities.”
The gondola is responsible for roughly half of the Mountain Village’s annual energy consumption. Although the longest stretch of the gondola and one of its four terminals is located in the Town of Telluride, the Town of Mountain Village Owners’ Association (i.e., property owners) foots the bill for most of the gondola’s annual operations, to the tune of $4 million. Approximately $275,000 is used to pay for the gondola’s annual electricity bill; presently, roughly 75 percent of the gondola’s electricity use comes from burning coal.
Drew says that, with just a little help from its riders, the gondola could see significant reductions – both in its energy consumption as well as its annual operational costs – through Green Gondola Project upgrades.
“If there’s anything we can agree on, it’s the environment,” Drew says. “This project can be a platform for everyone who lives in this region to agree on something that touches everyone’s life, and show their love for the gondola by helping reduce its impact on the environment.”
Green Gondola Project donations can be made online through PayPal. Moreover, the town will continue to offer contributors the option to make a donation at any of its donation boxes located on the outside of the gondola terminals in Mountain Village and Telluride. All donations are tax deductible.
For more information about the Green Gondola Project, visit the town’s website at www.townofmountainvillage/greengondola, or contact Drew at firstname.lastname@example.org.