Steam No Longer Such a Hot Idea

Unlike sunny San Diego, cold weather is a way of life in Sun Valley, the Idaho ski resort where the mercury regularly dips below freezing. Despite the often-phenomenal temperature differences, downtown San Diego's Westgate Hotel reports higher utility bills on a per-room basis than a sister hotel in Sun Valley.

Part of the problem is that electricity rates in San Diego are much higher than in Sun Valley. But the Westgate also uses expensive steam supplied by San Diego Gas & Electric's steam loop to heat its 223 rooms. Steam rates have tripled in the last few years, according to Erich Steinbock, general manager of the Westgate. Because rates will continue to rise as more of SDG&E;'s steam customers drop off the system, the Westgate is looking at ways of ending its dependence on the steam loop.

Each alternative under consideration, including replacing the steam with a gas-fired boiler, would demand up-front capital costs. But each would, in the long run, provide a cheaper source than continued reliance on the steam loop, Steinbock said.

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