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Hoteliers Strike Gold with Geothermal Alaskan Resort

November 23, 2009 - 6:31pm

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Bernie Karl knows a gold mine when he sees one. In the 1970s, Bernie and his wife Connie moved to Alaska and mined gold in the frontier before eventually landing their dream job of running Chena Hot Springs Resort, just outside of Fairbanks.

“We always wanted to own a hot springs,” Bernie says.

In 1998, Bernie bought the Chena Hot Springs Resort, and the 22-building spa was expensive to heat – astonishingly expensive – because it ran on diesel generators that cost him roughly $1,000 a day to fuel. As you can imagine, that adds up pretty quick.

But now the resort is home to two geothermal power plants that generate enough power to meet nearly all the resort’s electricity needs. The power plants, known as the Chena Chillers, were developed in collaboration with United Technologies Corporation and are the lowest operating temperature geothermal power plants in the world, operating with 165 F water.

The energy savings has been remarkable. Bernie estimates he saves anywhere from $300,000 to $400,000 in electricity costs alone each year.

That’s not the only benefit geothermal energy provides to this rural resort that is known for its wildlife, natural hot springs and fantastic views of the Northern Lights. The air is a whole lot cleaner for his guests.

“It was running on 22 smoke stacks,” Bernie recalls. “Now, we’re a zero-smoke-stack resort.”

Chena Hot Springs is now a destination resort for eco-tourists from around the world. Each year, 90,000 visitors flock to Chena Hot Springs to unwind and learn more about its various renewable energy projects. Eco-tourists can take a renewable energy tour and educate themselves about the interesting, energy-saving projects for which Chena Hot Springs is famous.

Bernie sees these treasures on a daily basis in the midst an economic climate that has most rural communities reeling.

“I’m almost ashamed to admit it, but I’m up 2 percent for the year, and I attribute 100 percent of it to doing things green,” he says. “People come to Chena Hot Springs because we do things green.”

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