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RENEWABLE PROPANE HITS THE SLOPES

Written on: February 5, 2024

Cranmore Mountain Resort is among New Hampshire’s first commercial facilities to use the new fuel

Cranmore Mountain Resort is an early adopter of cleaner energy sources. It was among the first ski resorts to use a snow groomer fueled by environmentally friendly biodiesel, and today, it’s among the first commercial facilities in New Hampshire to try another alternative energy: The resort recently received its first shipment of 12,000 gallons of renewable propane.

Renewable propane is made from bio-based sources such as seed oil. Domestic supply made with non- rendered used cooking oil has a carbon intensity score (the measure of carbon emitted per unit of energy) of 20.5. That gives the fuel the lowest carbon footprint of other power sources such as grid- supplied electricity (130), diesel (91), and conventional propane (79).

“Propane is already a low-carbon fuel, and we’re lowering it beyond that,” says Kirk Saunders, president of White Mountain Oil and Propane in North Conway, New Hampshire.

The propane retailer supplied the renewable batch to Cranmore Mountain Resort. The resort’s commitment to sustainability made the product an easy sell.

“I approached Cranmore because I knew they had a strong initiative for carbon reduction and renewables,” Saunders recalls. “I asked if they’d be willing to participate, and they said absolutely.”

A Better Blend

The delivery comes on the heels of Cranmore Mountain Resort’s recent unveiling of a new 60,000-square-foot lodge, part of a reported $85 million base area redevelopment project. White Mountain Oil and Propane installed a 30,000-gallon tank containing a blend of conventional and renewable propane to fuel space and water heating, cooking appliances, and fireplaces in the building, which includes ground-floor commercial space with condominiums above.

Even with renewable propane making up less than half the tank’s contents, that equals a substantial reduction in carbon. “We can blend some in and bring the carbon number down,” Saunders says.

Facilities opting for this type of fuel don’t need to change out their existing gas-using equipment. Renewable propane is compatible with propane appliances such as furnaces, boilers, cooktops, and water heaters.

“Being a drop-in fuel, there’s no conversion that needs to be done,” Saunders says. “It works the same.”

Green Skiing

Cranmore Mountain Resort’s adoption of renewable propane is among several measures it has taken to reduce carbon emissions and curb waste across operations. The resort moved from heating oil to propane during a series of retrofits over the past decade. Cranmore joined the National Ski Area Association’s Sustainable Slopes initiative, which guides sustainability best practices. Plus, the resort will continue to advance further initiatives, such as exploring battery storage technology. This would enable the resort to use stored power when grid-supplied electricity is priciest.

“This helps the community as a whole because traditional fossil fuel sources don’t have to come online,” says Sara Butterfield, head of the resort’s sustainability committee.

The Fairbank Lodge is Cranmore Mountain Resort’s new commercial and residential complex. The condominiums use propane for cooking equipment, water heaters and fireplaces. Propane furnaces provide heat to the commercial spaces below.

Management also recently invested in energy-efficient snowmakers to supplement natural snowfall on the mountain. Snowmaking equipment used to be the largest energy hog on site, but the technology has advanced. Today, one new snow gun can do the job of 10 old models.

“I’m making snow faster … but my electric bill hasn’t been ramping up,” says Ben Wilcox, Cranmore Mountain Resort president and general manager. “If anything, sometimes the usage has reduced a bit.”

For heating, the resort relies on a combination of propane and electricity. Electric heat pumps serve the residential units while propane furnaces heat commercial spaces.

“The commercial areas are so wide open that they’re not conducive to heat pumps,” Wilcox says. “You’d need registers all over the place with a large heat pump farm, which we don’t have room for.”

Propane is also used for cooktops, water heaters, and fireplaces in the condos, as well as fire pits and grilling stations outside.

Future deliveries of renewable propane to the resort will depend on cost and availability, but Saunders is optimistic about the fuel’s potential.

“I think this is a nascent push for all of us,” he says. “It won’t be something we’ll use on every drop, but if we can blend a little in … this product will help get us to a greener outcome.”

Photo courtesy of Cranmore Mountain Resort.

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