The city of blinding lights is starting to see 'green'
The first thermal plant in 16 years opened this summer in southern Nevada. And America's most expensive private development – a new hotel and casino complex on the Strip – is getting LEED certified.
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When fully built, MGM can expect to save money on operating costs like air conditioning and electricity within CityCenter's casino, hotels, condos, shops, and convention center. That's good for MGM, which already owns 10 hotels on the Strip and has a citywide power bill of $350,000 a day.Skip to next paragraph
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"Of course the tax incentives have made it an easier decision for everybody," says Cindy Ortega, senior vice president of MGM's energy and environmental services division. "But when you look at risk on something as large as CityCenter, it's more than a financial decision to do something that nobody has ever done before."
It has meant making unusual demands down the supply chains, and creating some services and supplies from scratch:
•No company in Las Vegas could recycle worksite scrap, so MGM capitalized one of its subcontractors to offer the service for CityCenter – and Vegas's future projects.
•Few low-flow bathroom fixtures had the luxury looks MGM wanted, so it worked with suppliers to design a new faucet.
•Some 10,000 workers have been trained on sustainable building practices.
"If you look at the CityCenter project, it primes the pump," says Mr. Pernick. "Not only does it perhaps provide a model for others to follow, it also helps establish the market."
But can any further development in this crowded desert really be considered green?
CityCenter marks a step in the right direction, says Lydia Ball, the regional representative of the Sierra Club. The outward – rather than upward – growth of Las Vegas is the real concern, she says. Sprawl requires more energy to move workers and water greater distances.
Whether there is enough water to add more people, experts say, depends on how it's used. Las Vegas's water usage per capita is comparatively high – but improving. Between 2002 and 2006, Las Vegas added 300,000 people, but the overall water usage dropped by 18 billion gallons.
Those gains came largely from an incentive program that paid homeowners to pull up their lawns in favor of low-water landscaping. Since the incentives began in 1999, the water authority has pulled up enough sod to roll a strip halfway around the planet. The war on grass is warranted: Lawns soak up the majority of water use in Vegas, says J.C. Davis, spokesman for the Southern Nevada Water Authority.
As for indoor water use, he says, nearly all that water gets "recycled," meaning it is captured, treated, and returned to Lake Mead. The city can then draw an equivalent amount of water from the lake.
"They call it recycling. It's been used as an excuse for them not to do anything indoors," says Heather Cooley, coauthor of a recent Las Vegas water study from the Pacific Institute in Oakland, Calif. Moving and treating indoor water gobbles up energy, she says.
The agency could also combat water wasters through aggressive pricing tiers – beyond certain thresholds, the price per gallon spikes.
The water authority is working with developers to offer "water smart" homes outfitted with high-efficiency appliances.
In a down real estate market, "going green, going water smart, and just being very energy efficient has helped" move homes, says Maria Guterman, a saleswoman for Pulte Homes.