Home Publisher's Point of View Xanterra’s One-Megawatt Solar Installation is Alive and Well in Death Valley

Xanterra’s One-Megawatt Solar Installation is Alive and Well in Death Valley


This past week I had the opportunity to visit the site of the U.S. tourism industry’s largest solar installation. It is located in California in Death Valley National Park, the sunniest place in the country, and meets more than one-third of the annual electricity needs of Xanterra Parks & Resort’s Furnace Creek Inn & Ranch Resort, golf course and employee offices and housing. The four-acre installation is located at the Ranch and is an impressive site with California’s Panamint Mountain Range as a backdrop for the 5,740 panels.

You may be thinking that Death Valley is an ideal spot for the panels not just because of the sun but because of the heat as well, but that is not the case at all. It is strictly because of the availability of the sun. Ironically, the panels are more efficient at a temperature of 30 degrees. It certainly helps to have so much sun; the average amount of annual rainfall in Death Valley National Park is less than two inches so cloudy days are rare. To maximize efficiency, the panels automatically change position to follow the path of the sun throughout the day.

Joel Southall, director of environmental health & safety at Furnace Creek Inn & Ranch Resort, says the electricity generated by the panels feeds directly into the power grid. Xanterra, which owns and operates the resort, then benefits by getting a credit toward its bill from its local utility. The panels in the $8.5 million installation generate one megawatt of electricity. Over the next 30 years, the system will eliminate the emission of more than 29,000 tons of carbon dioxide, nitrogen oxide and sulfur dioxide into the atmosphere. This reduction of pollution is equal to removing more than 5,100 cars from California’s highways.

What One Would Expect from Xanterra

For Xanterra, which has already built quite a reputation in the lodging industry with its Ecologix program and sustainability reporting, the solar installation is one more example of its strong environmental commitment. Here are a few more things you should know about Xanterra’s solar installation:

• According to Andrew N. Todd, president and CEO of Denver-based Xanterra, it proves that doing the right thing environmentally can make good business sense. With the savings on energy costs, Xanterra expects to break even in just a few years. (Xanterra took advantage of available rebates to help reduce the installation’s cost.)

• The system was specially designed to withstand the harsh conditions of Death Valley and will produce more than two million kilowatt-hours per year of clean renewable energy—enough to power more than 400 average-sized American homes for decades. During the day the system is reducing electricity usage of the entire property by up to 60 percent.

• With this new facility, Xanterra will significantly exceed President Bush’s executive order—“Strengthening Federal Environmental, Energy and Transportation Management”—that calls for a 3 percent annual reduction of energy intensity or a total of 30 percent reduction by the end of fiscal year 2015 relative to the fiscal year 2003.

• Xanterra relocated more than 144 date palm trees to make room for the system of solar panels. Although the trees are not indigenous to Death Valley—they were planted by the Pacific Coast Borax Co. in the 1920s—Xanterra was committed to preserving as many trees as possible because of their historical significance and because the trees serve as habitat for area wildlife. Vegetative debris was mulched and used around the perimeter of the site for dust control, and date palms that could not be relocated were reused for landscaping.

• Xanterra contracted with SPG Solar Inc. of Novato, Calif., for the installation. SPG Solar has installed more than 500 commercial and residential systems tied to electric grids.

• Company-wide since 2000, Xanterra has reduced its greenhouse gas emissions by 17 percent through efficiency and conservation measures. The solar system will help the company exceed a 20 percent gross reduction in greenhouse gases.

A dedication of Xanterra’s solar installation will be held at its location on Tuesday, December 16 at noon. Actor and environmentalist Ed Begley, Jr. will be on hand along with various government, industry and environmental leaders.

The next time you are in Las Vegas during the “cooler” months of the year, take a drive over to the Furnace Creek Inn & Ranch Resort to see the installation. You will be glad you did.

Green Lodging News Adds Excel Case Study to Website

Green Lodging News has added an Excel Dryer case study to its Vendor Case Studies section. The case study focuses on the U.S. Green Building Council’s LEED-certified headquarters and the installation of Excel Dryer’s XLERATOR hand dryers. Excel Dryer donated hand dryers for the building. Because of its new patented technology, the XLERATOR works three times faster than conventional dryers while using 80 percent less energy. Excel Dryer is a USGBC member and its XLERATOR hand dryer helps facilities qualify for LEED credits, including EA (Earth and Atmosphere) Credit 1—Optimizing Energy Performance, which is now a mandatory credit for all LEED certifications.

To access the case study, click here. To learn more about Excel Dryer, go to www.exceldryer.com, e-mail bgagnon@exceldryer.com, or call (413) 525-4531.

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