July 23, 2012 at 11:11 AM ET
Perhaps Bob Dylan was right: maybe the answer really is blowing in the wind.
At least that’s the hope at the Hilton Fort Lauderdale Beach Resort, which is tackling the issue of high-energy costs by installing 40-foot wind turbines on its high-rise roof. Hoping to generate 5 to 10 percent of its energy needs, the Florida resort is part of a trend that’s seeing travel companies turning to wind and solar power to cut costs and appeal to environmentally-conscious travelers.
"We started talking about it about four years ago," said Andreas Ioannou, the resort’s general manager. "At the time, we were doing the basic things — recycling paper and plastic, using compact fluorescent bulbs — but then we thought about wind turbines and said: 'let’s try it.'"
The plan is to begin construction on six turbines atop the resort’s 25-story tower in September. Upon completion later this year, the half-million-dollar project is expected to generate 192,000 kilowatt-hours (KWH) per year.
The project, it turns out, is part of an ongoing environmental commitment that helped the five-year-old resort earn a Florida Green Lodging designation from the state’s Department of Environmental Protection in 2008.
"Our developer had a strong interest in clean energy and we wanted to be in the forefront in terms of sustainability," Ioannou told NBC News.
They’re likely to have company as other travel providers are also turning to alternative energy. Last October, Alaska Airlines installed a 30-foot wind turbine adjacent to its terminal in Nome, Alaska, and solar panels on its roof. Together, they’re expected to produce 15,000 KWH — about six percent of the terminal's electrical needs — and save $5,000 per year.
Meanwhile, Hertz recently announced plans to install solar panels at its locations at Newark and John F. Kennedy airports, augmenting the installations it rolled out last year, including one at the Denver airport.
"We have a lot of locations and a lot of horizontal roofs," said Hertz spokesman Richard Broome, who expects the installations to pay for themselves in two to three years.
"It’s a dynamic and fluid situation," he told NBC News, "but it definitely pencils out."
And it is likely to do so for more companies, say observers, as they undertake the calculus of declining construction costs, the availability of government incentives and long-term trends for energy costs from traditional sources.
"We’re not at grid parity [with other sources] yet, but it’s getting close," said Marie Schnitzer, vice president of consulting services for AWS Truepower LLC, a renewable-energy consulting company. "It’s getting to be less about early adopters and becoming more achievable for a broader group of companies."
Which, in turn, will provide more options for environmentally-conscious travelers. They may not see any savings in their personal travel expenses, but they may find it easier to locate travel providers who share their concerns and commitment.
"There’s a growing trend of Americans looking for companies that are committed to sustainable practices," said Schnitzer. "They’re saying: How can I support companies that support my personal values?"
Rob Lovitt is a longtime travel writer who still believes the journey is as important as the destination. Follow him on Twitter.
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