National park and resort concessioner Xanterra Parks & Resorts has just completed one of the largest solar photovoltaic (PV) energy systems in the United States. Covering five acres of Southern California’s Death Valley National Park – a 3.3 million-acre park that is the sunniest place in the country – the one megawatt (MW) system will generate more than one-third of the total annual electricity needs of Xanterra’s operations in Death Valley, including the historic Furnace Creek Inn, Furnace Creek Ranch, Furnace Creek Golf Course, employee offices and housing.
Xanterra’s facility is one of the largest privately owned PV energy systems in the country and easily the largest in the U.S. tourism industry. Xanterra fully owns the system and the energy it produces.
Over the next 30 years, the massive system – larger than five football fields – will eliminate the emission of more than 29,000 tons of carbon dioxide, nitrogen oxide and sulfur dioxide – primary contributors to global warming, acid rain and smog. This reduction of pollution is equal to removing more than 5,100 cars from California’s highways. Xanterra has been steadily working to reduce its greenhouse gas emissions for several years, and with the addition of the Death Valley system, the company expects total company-wide reductions to be more than 20 percent since 2000.
“Xanterra is exceptionally proud of this system because it illustrates what one company can do with a systematic environmental program and a long-term approach to sustainable operations,” said Andrew N. Todd, president and CEO of Denver-based Xanterra. “It also proves that doing the right thing environmentally can make good business sense. The project is fiscally viable. With the savings on energy costs, we expect to break even in just a few years.”
Because Death Valley is so sunny and the system tracks the sun throughout the day, Xanterra expects its PV system to be 40 percent more efficient than an average stationary solar facility. 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. The electricity feeds directly into the electric grid instead of batteries.
Todd noted that with this new facility, Xanterra will significantly exceed President Bush’s executive order – “Strengthening Federal Environmental, Energy and Transportation Management” – that calls for a three 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.
Under construction for six months, the elaborate system is situated in a secluded area surrounded by the Furnace Creek Golf Course. The company took steps to ensure that construction of the solar PV system was as environmentally sound as possible.
Xanterra relocated more than 144 date palm trees to make room for the system of 5,740 solar panels. Although the trees are not indigenous to Death Valley – they were planted by the Pacific Coast Borax Company 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 PV systems tied to electric grids.
With operations at national and state parks and resorts throughout the country, Xanterra Parks & Resorts has become recognized internationally as a hospitality industry leader in sustainable operations.
The Furnace Creek Inn & Ranch Resort (www.furnacecreekresort.com) in Death Valley National Park has been welcoming guests since the 1930s. The Furnace Creek Inn is an AAA Four Diamond-rated property featuring 66 rooms and two suites with a full array of amenities, fine dining, tennis courts and a spring-fed pool. Situated adjacent to the golf course, the Ranch features 224 rooms in a casual setting.