Copenhagen’s Newest Tourist Attraction: CopenHill – The Green Ski Slope Above a Power Plant
“One man’s trash is another man’s treasure” is a proverb going back to England in the 16th century, but in 21st century Denmark, one city’s trash is also its source of heat, electricity, recreation and tourist dollars.
Copenhagen, the Danish capital, is known for its ambitious aim to become the world’s first carbon-neutral city by 2025. A 410-foot smokestack that towers over it is not just a symbol of sustainability, but it also marks the site of the latest tourist attraction, the Amager Bakke power plant. (1)
This massive incinerator, designed by the renowned Danish architect Bjarke Ingels, is transforming local trash into low-carbon energy. What sets it apart is that the facility’s roof has been ingeniously repurposed into a recreational area, aptly named “CopenHill.”
CopenHill boasts an array of amenities, including hiking trails, a fitness center, and even an artificial ski slope on its slanted roof. Frank Jensen, Copenhagen’s mayor, expressed his enthusiasm, saying, “Amager Bakke is the embodiment of how we want to combine sustainable thinking and innovative architecture with recreational facilities when developing the city.”(2)
The Amager Bakke power plant, a 12-floor structure located in the formerly industrial area of Amager Island, features a facade adorned with glazed windows and stacked aluminum bricks, which also serve as planters. Visitors can take a glass elevator to the top, where they are rewarded with a panoramic view of the city, the Oresund bridge connecting Denmark to Sweden, and the Swedish landscape.
The unique feature that attracts thrill-seekers is the 1,480-foot artificial ski slope, covered not in snow but with green synthetic bristles designed to replicate the friction of a freshly groomed slope. The slope is equipped with three magic carpets ideal for children and beginners, as well as a drag lift for skiers of various levels of expertise.
Apart from skiing, CopenHill offers a freestyle park, a slalom course, a fitness area, and even plans for the world’s highest artificial 280-foot climbing wall. The surrounding landscape, designed by the Copenhagen-based landscape architecture firm SLA, resembles a mountain field, featuring 7,000 bushes, 300 pine and willow trees, various plants, and real grass that grows through the artificial bristles.
The absence of mountains in Denmark makes CopenHill a truly unique destination, as noted by Martin Kroyer, a local mountain biker who recently raced up the hill. At the top, a panoramic restaurant serves Danish delicacies. And at the bottom, visitors can find a ski rental shop, a ski school, and an après-ski bar.
Admission to the landscaped park and top platform is free, and CopenHill officials anticipate welcoming 300,000 visitors annually. Skiers and snowboarders are encouraged to book their time slots online, and the hourly rate for skiing is $22. Additional services such as ski lessons and rental equipment are available for those who need them.
Inside the facility, two-thirds of the floor space is dedicated to trash incineration. Run by the Amager Ressource Center, the plant, which opened in the summer of 2017, has been successful in converting approximately 450,000 tons of garbage into electricity for 30,000 households. While the incinerators drive electricity generation, the excess heat it produces is captured and used in Copenhagen’s district energy system, sending heat through a network of pipes and ducts to over 72,000 households.
Will Maine kick its public utilities to the curb?
This week, the people of Maine will take a vote that could reshape their energy landscape and set a precedent for the nation. A ballot initiative will offer voters the unique opportunity to strip the licenses of the state’s two for-profit, investor-owned utilities and transfer their assets to Pine Tree Power, a nonprofit utility that would be owned by all Mainers.
The case for this change is strong, as Maine’s monopoly utilities are among the least popular in the nation. Advocates argue that by eliminating the profit motive from electricity provision, the move could improve the often-unreliable service and lower costs, making energy more affordable for Mainers.
But this isn’t just about customer service; it’s also a critical step towards rapid decarbonization, a necessity to combat climate change effectively. The existing century-old utility business model has been a hindrance to real climate progress, and this initiative aims to remove that obstacle.
Central Maine Power and Versant supply electricity to 97% of the state’s homes and businesses, and their actions significantly influence the adoption of clean energy solutions, such as solar projects and electrification. (1) The unreliability of these utilities has deterred many from embracing electric heating and transportation.
The initiative poses a threat to these for-profit utilities, which are subsidiaries of foreign energy holding companies. Their parent corporations have invested heavily in opposing the ballot measure, fearing a loss of profits.
Recent history suggests that utilities might have reason to worry. In a 2021 referendum, Maine voters rebuked a $1 billion clean energy transmission line that Central Maine Power wanted to build in a 60-40 split.
Public opinion on the initiative remains divided, with a recent poll showing 56% planning to reject it and 31% supporting it. Given the significance of this decision, the Portland Press Herald has called it “the most-watched issue on the ballot” this year.
Even if the initiative succeeds, the timeline for the transition to community-owned power and the guarantee of improved service and costs remains uncertain. Still, Maine is considering the most sweeping effort yet to disrupt the utility sector’s status quo, which is vital for its climate goals.
The initiative’s proposal to revoke the rights that grant monopoly control of the power grid to for-profit companies is a bold move in the United States, a nation known for its capitalistic values. But utilities don’t possess an innate right to such control, and many governments in the U.S. have compelled utilities to sell assets in the past.
The potential savings and benefits are subject to uncertainty, with the ultimate cost of the buyout and the efficiency of the new utility’s operations being key factors. Still, Mainers might be ready to embrace the risks to transform their energy landscape and address climate change effectively.
The Weekly Sunsong
Copenhagen, by the luminous Lucinda Williams