Las Vegas Puts Sustainability In The Spotlight

The City of Las Vegas is hoping to win big with energy conservation.

Mayor Oscar Goodman Thursday announced the city is teaming up with energy management firm Hara to audit the gaming capital’s power usage.

“Las Vegas is striving to build a more sustainable community by investing in strategies to conserve energy and increase efficiencies,” says Las Vegas mayor Oscar Goodman, who adds, “We expect to save money.”

CityCenter gas plant
Source: MGM
CityCenter gas plant

The City of Las Vegas consumes about 180,000 megawatt hours (MwH) of power in 2009. Though that that may seem like a lot, it’s nothing compared to what the casinos use.

In 2009, 62 million MwH of power were consumed in utility NV Energy’s service territory, with their biggest users found in Las Vegas and its shiny Strip. A typical Vegas casino racks up a six-figure power bill on a daily basis.

Goodman says what the city discovers in its energy-use analysis could “definitely” find its way into the city's energy-use policies for all its residents and businesses.

The city already shares conservation ideas with big gaming operations—Harrah’s Entertainment and MGM Mirage — as well as other businesses.

The city government has already taken some steps towards greater energy efficiency, including the conversion of 97 percent of its vehicle fleet to greener fuels and the installation of solar panels on city-owned parking garages.

Vegas’ hedonistic private sector anted up with its own ideas.

MGM Mirage’s massive 18 million-square foot CityCenter complex opened in December 2009 with several environmental innovations, both large and small, including a dedicated 8.5-megawatt, natural-gas-fired power plant to produce enough clean energy to power almost 3,000 typical homes, and small air conditioners built into the bases of slot machine bases to cool guests from the floor up instead of from the ceiling down.

Yet for all The Strip’s over-the-top displays and 24/7 lifestyle, such service-heavy economies, be they cities focused on entertainment or financial services—use far less power per dollar of income generated compared to manufacturing or energy-production states, like Alaska or Louisiana.

The Carbon Challenge: A CNBC Special Report
The Carbon Challenge: A CNBC Special Report

In the current economic environment, however, cutting energy consumption, is a growing market, $2 billion to $7 billion by CEO Amit Chatterjee's estimate.

What's more a municipality or company that cuts energy costs gets more green kudos than one that shrinks it carbon footprints.

Hara has made a business of tapping into that green strategy. It's enterprise software and service offerings allow corporate managers—clients include Coca-Cola, Safeway and Intuit —to evaluate their energy use in a variety of ways.

“It’s about having an end-to-end process to see where you are,” he says.

For cities like Las Vegas, all this energy being spent in the name of saving energy down the road has important budget ramifications.

It can lead to greater economic development, while taking the strain off if the existing power system.

“It makes more sense than building additional power plants to meet peak demand,” says Monica Miller, director at Ambata Capital Partners, an investment firm specializing in clean energy and sustainability.