Furnace Creek’s High-Powered Innovations

Death Valley, the sunniest place in the United States, has long been known for its natural extremities and beautifully stark surroundings. Now, its resort is utilizing the sun to create power in the country’s largest project of its kind.

Furnace Creek Inn and Ranch Resort, located in Death Valley National Park and one of several properties managed by Xanterra Parks and Resorts nationwide, recently installed a one-megawatt solar photovoltaic system. Completed in 2008, it is Xanterra’s largest project to date, and “will reduce our greenhouse gas emissions by an amount equivalent to the emissions of a small city,” said Chris Lane, the organization’s vice president of environmental affairs.

The magnitude of the project speaks volumes, considering other properties in Xanterra’s management portfolio include the parks at Mt. Rushmore, Crater Lake, Yellowstone and the Grand Canyon (it also manages Silverado Resort in Napa). Spanning more than five acres (or five football fields) of the 3.3-million-acre Death Valley National Park, the system generates one-third of the resort’s annual electricity needs using 5,740 solar panels.

One component of the property powered by the sun is its golf course, the world’s lowest-elevation layout at 214 feet below sea level. A William P. Bell course from 1931 that was redesigned in 1997 by Perry Dye, the par-70 course was recently named one of “America’s 50 Toughest Courses” by Golf Digest. At 6,236 yards from the back, the golf course’s unique lack of elevation adds a different dimension of difficulty, thanks to the ball’s response to greater gravity and barometric forces.

Over the next 30 years, the solar power generated at Furnace Creek will eliminate the emission of more than 29,000 tons of carbon dioxide, nitrogen oxide and sulfur dioxide, equal to removing more than 5,100 cars from California’s highways. The system was designed to withstand the area’s harsh conditions, and during the day it reduces the electricity usage of the entire property by up to 60 percent.

Solar power is one of many environmental initiatives Xanterra has implemented at its properties; others include on-site grease recycling into biodiesel and a company-wide sustainable cuisine program.

--From FORE Magazine, November/December 2009