Vegas Ought to Bet on Clean Energy

Spending time in Vegas gave me an opportunity, yet again, to experience the power of the almighty dollar.

But it’s not the gambling I’m referring to. Although the din of the slots, cries of anguish at the craps games and cool stares from packed blackjack tables are something to behold.

No, it’s the Vegas thirst for electrical power that gets me thinking. Massive voltage travels from the grid into the various mini cities on the Strip — like the new Palazzo resort hotel, which with the Venetian has about 8,000 rooms. That energy flows into the MGM Grand, Caesar’s Palace, the Flamingo and all the rest. Just the air conditioning bill would crush a third-world country. Toss in the rest of the operations, high-definition billboards and lighting that can be seen from the space shuttle, and it’s enough to keep Nevada Power Co. one of the most stable and profitable investments of all time.

But imagine this: What if Vegas went big for alternative energy and energy efficiency? It’s a risk, sure. But where else can you bet on a Wizard of Oz slot, get beer delivered and take a leak just 10 paces away? Vegas thrives on risk.

And while energy efficiency retrofits have proved their value, renewables still have a way to go. For instance, Forbes’ Devon Swezey predicts a clean tech crash. “The reason is simple,” Swezey writes. “Clean energy is still much more expensive and less reliable than coal or gas.”

And the economy bites, subsidies are dying and public sector budgets look like a two-egg breakfast left overnight outside in the hall at the Paris. So what?

That’s really not what’s driving the industry right now. For instance, go outside on the Strip in Vegas and breathe the air. Accompanying the constant stale stench of fried food, ambiance of public urination, sweat and other gross stuff is a good dose of pollution. That isn’t fresh air. And it isn’t just Vegas.

The truth is the air is nasty in most big cities. Sure, beautiful Fresno has some of the worst. I was introduced to asthma here. Nothing like it, especially on a long run. Might as well get punched in the face. There’s a cost to that. Coal and gas may be cheap per kilowatt, but that energy becomes very costly just multiplied by 100 million people trouping into pharmacies for treatment of allergy-related ailments.

And then there’s the whole carbon debate. Fox News may try to sidestep the issue, but it’s pretty clear we’ve got a serious problem.

“Here is the truth: The Earth is round; Saddam Hussein did not attack us on 9/11; Elvis is dead; Obama was born in the United States; and the climate crisis is real. It is time to act,” says Al Gore in a piece for Rolling Stone.

I tend to believe it. And I’m not the only one.

Tom Daykin of the Milwaukee Journal Sentinal writes about Fritz Kreiss and Catherine McQueen, whose 19-room Green Leaf Inn in rural Delavan, Wisc. uses a wind turbine, geothermal energy and solar power to produce a nonexistent carbon footprint.

And tax and audit company KPMG LLP has announced it leveraged a 22 percent carbon reduction in overall operations over three years. That’s KPMG, hardly a tree-hugging hippy, and its pursuing a plan to improve the environmental performance of its business.

I collected a relatively long list, but I’ll keep this rant somewhat short.

So where else but Vegas would clean energy be better showcased? A silly town in the desert nobody thought would be successful. Heck, if that were the case, it really would’ve dried up during this “recession.” But no, the World Series of Poker was a huge success this year, and people flocked despite unreal dinner prices.

So dress that next casino hotel resort with solar panels, tap some geothermal and go LED crazy. Yeah, in Vegas baby.