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Half of the Equation

Here's an interesting development:

Vail Resorts to switch to wind power

DENVER - Vail Resorts said it will buy enough wind-generated electricity to replace all the power used by its five ski areas and more than 135 other stores, lodges and offices.

vail.jpg Vail said Tuesday it would purchase nearly 152,000 megawatt-hours of wind-generated electricity a year, making it the second-largest corporate purchaser of wind power in the country. It did not immediately disclose the cost.

"By embracing wind power as a clean and renewable source for 100 percent of our companywide electricity use, we want to reinforce our commitment to the natural environment in which we operate and be a leader on this critical effort within the travel industry," said Rob Katz, chief executive officer of Vail Resorts.

Way to go, Rob.

The half of the equation mentioned in the title of this entry is, of course, the demand half. So often when we see new information about alternative energy sources, the focus is on the supply half of the equation -- equally important, of course. But what's neat about news that centers on the demand half is that, from the fact that Vail has announced that they're making the switch, the supply half can be pretty much assumed.

The reverse isn't necessarily so. If someone announces that they have figured out a way to save the planet by generating power from lawn clippings, we have no way of knowing whether the planet will actually be saved, because we don't know whether anyone is going to take the visionary up on their idea. But we can rest assured that the 152,000 megawatt hours required to run Vail can be had via wind power -- because Vail is putting money on the table. That is to say, even if the power weren't available, somebody would see to it to make it available, pronto.

But apparently, there is a lot more wind power out there than you might guess. The quoted article goes on to report how the Whole Foods grocery store chain is also switching to a 100% wind-powered model -- and they use up about three times as much power as Vail.

This also helps make the case against one of the fallacious arguments raised against alternative energy sources, the so-called Silver Bullet argument. It goes something like this:

Power for a grocery store chain and a couple of ski resorts is a drop in the bucket. Wind power, on its own, could never supply more than a small percentage of the energy we currently get from petroleum. Therefore, it is not a solution.

The response to the Silver Bullet argument is that we don't need a Silver Bullet. Wind power doesn't have to replace petroleum on its own. If we do a little bit with wind, a little bit with solar, a little bit with biofuels, a little bit with nuclear power -- it adds up. And the more demand that organizations like Vail and Whole Foods create, the more supply of alternate energy there will be.

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