Propane at the Peak

May 22, 2014 By    

Tank manufacturer goes to great lengths – and heights – for mountain resort delivery

Delivering two 22,000-gallon propane tanks and 39,000 gallons of propane to the top of a mountain so high you can see five states and Canada may seem impossible. If not for a propane retailer with decades of experience, an innovative manufacturer and the drive to meet a tight deadline, it may not have happened at all.

Killington Resort is located in Central Vermont’s Green Mountains. Spread out over six peaks, Killington’s 3,000 acres provide a scenic spot for skiing, playing golf, biking and hiking. The resort boasts a top elevation of 4,241 feet, and it was at the peak of this mountain that the company rebuilt one of its lodges, and in the process made the switch from electric to propane.

Killington Resort

A winding, gravel service road used only during the off-season provided the only access to the mountaintop, where the two 22,000-gallon propane tanks were installed.

The new Peak Lodge, with its comfy leather couches and amazing views, uses propane for heating and to fuel the restaurant’s kitchen equipment. The propane is housed in two 22,000-gallon tanks buried underground.

Highland Tank & Manufacturing Co. Inc., Stoystown, Pa., manufactured the custom-sized tanks because using three 18,000-gallon tanks would have provided storage for more propane than was needed and one 30,000-gallon tank would have been too large to haul up to the top of the mountain.

“Once I realized [Highland] could make any size as long as it’s 9 foot, 2 [inches] in diameter, it just became a matter of figuring out what our expected use was for the year and getting two tanks made to accommodate that,” says Jim Shands, Killington’s facilities manager.

The plan

Highland could have built any size tank as long as the diameter remained standard because only so many diameters of tank heads are available, according to Pete Palladino, Highland Tank’s regional sales manager for New England. The company – which is capable of designing, manufacturing and installing tanks – says about 4 percent of its business is in propane, but it’s growing rapidly. The most popular-sized tanks it makes are 30,000, 50,000 and 60,000 gallons.

“[Killington] wanted to have equal-sized tanks,” Palladino says. “I said we will build any size you want. Just because the industry’s always done 18s and they bump all the way to 30s, to us, it doesn’t matter.”

Fortunately, the company was up to the challenge, as it had just completed a new 400-foot-long production facility in Manheim, Pa.

“We opened the doors about 30 days prior,” Palladino says. “So these [22,000-gallon tanks] went through a brand new facility that’s totally geared up for lifting heavy weight with 40-ton cranes.”

Killington had worked with Highland before, buying much smaller double-walled tanks from it for years. The resort placed the order for the tanks the day Palladino first met with it to discuss the project, because work had to be complete before the first snowfall and the start of ski season.

“Within 14 weeks we had the tanks on the top of the mountain,” Palladino says. “We didn’t mess around.”

Because Killington prides itself on being the first ski resort in the area to open for the season, the tanks had to be installed and the propane delivered in early October. Besides, it would not have been possible to transport and fill the tanks once the snow began to fall.

“The delivery was one of the most unique things I’ve ever experienced,” Palladino says. “And it was smooth, once everything was figured out.”

Delivery via aerial crane was ruled out because each tank weighed in at 25 tons, making them too heavy to transport this way. A winding, gravel service road used only during the off-season provided the only access to the mountaintop. Although Highland has its own vehicles to transport the products it manufactures, a conventional truck could not make it to the top due to the sharp turns and steep incline. So it called in a company accustomed to making specialty deliveries – such as massive wind turbines – in Vermont. Instead, a unique skidder-type vehicle got the job done.

“Before we even built propane [tanks], we were delivering 50,000-gallon oil tanks to universities and colleges,” Palladino says. “So we have experience with each state’s requirements and the logistics of moving large tanks.”

In this case, for example, extra time was built into the project to ensure the tanks arrived at their destination on time. Drivers showed up the evening before making the trip because transporting “super loads” 30 minutes before sunrise and 30 minutes after sunset is prohibited in Vermont.

Once the two tanks made it to the top of the mountain, R.H. White Construction Cos., Auburn, Mass., handled the underground installation. By then, excavation was complete.

“They had all their pipe in and were just waiting for our tanks,” Palladino says. “They just had to make that last 25-foot, 30-foot, 40-foot connection; this pipe run was hundreds of feet.”

He says the coating system and the piping chamber made this job unique from a manufacturing standpoint. Highland used a 75-mil external coating system on the tanks and built a steel box, which protrudes from the ground, to house the pipes.

The tanks made it up the mountain and into the ground without a problem.

“In my heart, I knew [the delivery] would run smooth, but I also knew we couldn’t take anything for granted,” Palladino says. “Because we had winter and the target date closing in on us, we had to stay on top of it.”

The retailer’s role

Once the tanks were installed and hooked up, Keyser Energy, Rutland, Vt., the propane retailer servicing the Killington Resort, moved in to fill them with propane.

“As soon as they had the green light to fill [the tanks], it was 13 bobtail deliveries back and forth, back and forth, back and forth to fill those two 22,000-gallon tanks for the season,” Palladino says. “They can’t go to those tanks again until long after winter.”

Chris Keyser, Keyser Energy’s general manager, says his company delivered about 39,000 gallons of propane in 3,000-gallon lots. Each round trip took about four hours, weather permitting, he says.

“It took about six weeks, planning it around the weather, because we didn’t go at the very bad times,” Keyser says. “But you couldn’t avoid it. You’re at a peak of 4,200 feet in the middle of Vermont.”

As the propane retailer servicing Killington, Keyser had worked with the company since 1979, providing not only propane, but diesel fuel, gasoline, plumbing and heating services as well. His role during the planning stages of the project involved working with the engineers to try to determine what Killington would need for a year’s worth of propane storage.

Because the Peak is a new lodge at the resort, no one knew exactly how much propane would be enough.

The consulting engineers thought the resort would use 32,000 gallons of propane in an eight-month period, so Shands used that as a starting point. He currently is monitoring the situation and doesn’t foresee any supply issues.

“I think the building is using about 100 gallons a day,” he says. “It’s a long season, though, because we can only resupply between late May through maybe early October.”

Keyser says those involved in the project believed the tanks would hold more than enough propane.

“That was the first fill, of course,” he says. “The expectation is that sometime in the summer, we’ll fill it up and get a real sense of how much the building uses.”

Although the weather won’t be snowy for the next propane delivery, it too will be carefully planned.

“We will still use a lead vehicle and we will still have to coordinate with Killington to be able to provide safe and efficient operations,” Keyser says.

Why propane?

The decision to use propane may seem like an interesting choice due to the logistics of hauling it up the side of a mountain. Shands says filling the tanks won’t be a problem, though.

“During the summer, we can get a truck up there to resupply and deal with any issues that we have,” he says.

The building that once stood at Killington’s highest peak was built in the 1970s at a time when electric heat was popular, Shands says, but the company decided it was time for something new. The new Peak Lodge is a restaurant that is used practically all year, for skiers in the winter and bikers in the summer. Special events, such as weddings, also can be held there.

Propane was the logical choice because natural gas is not available in the area, the Vermont Energy Code does not allow electric resistance heating, and oil is problematic, Shands says.

“We’ve transitioned from oil to propane in many locations mainly because it’s more efficient and leaves less of a carbon footprint,” he says.

Killington Resort takes a hands-on approach to its propane energy source and owns the two newly installed propane tanks.

“We prefer to use propane because we can deal with the maintenance and repairs in-house,” Shands says. “With all the kitchen equipment being propane, why not?”

So far, Peak Lodge has not experienced any propane supply issues and usage is trending very well.

“The system has been working great,” Shands says. “It’s a comfortable building.”

Diane Sofranec is the digital editor of LP Gas magazine. Contact her at dsofranec@northcoastmedia.net or 216-706-3793.

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