March 9, 2007 1:03 PM PST

The greening of Las Vegas

LAS VEGAS--There's one sure way to make money in Vegas: rip out your lawn.

The Las Vegas Valley Water District pays residents $2 for every square foot of grass they remove and then replace with desert landscaping.

Spring Mountain Road pumping station

"We've removed millions of square feet," said Bronson Mack, a spokesman for the agency. "If you put it all together, an 18-inch piece of turf would stretch from Las Vegas to Sydney and beyond."

In addition, a huge portion of the water from the sewage system in this city of nearly 2 million is treated and reused. Some goes to golf courses, while the stuff that goes through most layers of treatment gets returned for human consumption. The city gets 300,000 acre feet a year from Lake Mead, and it reclaims more than 200,000 acre feet.

Vegas doesn't seem like a green city at first glance. The zillions of lights of the Strip blaze 24 hours a day, and there's a large Hummer dealership in town. Plus, the city's marquee economic activity is one of conspicuous consumption--a blow-the-life-savings-on-a-roll-of-the-dice ethos, not frugality of any sort.

But city officials, as well as the Nevada legislature, have begun to implement environmental programs that will, ideally, ease a bit of the burden of trying to keep a growing metropolis humming--one that just happens to be located in one of the more inhospitable deserts in North America.

For instance, Mack said, there are two government-owned hydrogen filling stations. Different city agencies are experimenting with hydrogen-powered utility vehicles and pickup trucks, which generally only drive in a circumscribed area--that is, never too far from a fill-up. Other municipalities are experimenting with hydrogen cars as well.

Energy and water are hot topics for residents. One person I met went into a lengthy discussion about the decline in water levels in Lake Mead and other nearby lakes. A cab driver told me how police threatened to throw him in jail for inciting a riot after complaining about his high power bill at the local utility's open house. After he complained, he said, several people joined in and started shouting at the utility officials.

The electrical bill in his two-bedroom condo, the driver said, comes to about $150 a month.

Because of Las Vegas' desert location, a major emphasis is on solar energy. Under one state law, utilities are required to get 15 percent of their power from renewable resources and 5 percent from solar by 2015.

This explains the solar panels on the roof of the underground pumping stations sending water to the city. The panels provide electricity to run the pumps, which lift water 200 feet into the air so that the water can cascade down to holding tanks and homes.

The water agency has already put solar panels on four of its pumping stations and will have a fifth completed soon. In all, the agency will put solar-power systems on six stations for a total of $22.6 million dollars. The tracking systems for the solar panels come from a company called PowerLight, which also provides maintenance, while Sharp made the solar panels.

The water system and the pumping system right now aren't completely synchronized. The pumps mostly run at night and the solar panels, for obvious reasons, generate electricity in the day. As a result, most of the electricity generated by the panels goes into the grid.

By shifting pumping activities to the daytime, a long-term change that's now under way, the agency will consume more of its own power and qualify for incentives and rebates from the state.

Solar will likely never fill all of the needs of the pumping stations. In January, the solar system at the Grand Canyon pumping station generated 38,000 kilowatt-hours of energy. Overall, said Mack, the plant consumed 114,000kWh.

Meanwhile, Acciona Solar next month plans to begin pumping power out of Nevada Solar One, a 64-megawatt facility 40 miles outside of town. That's enough power for 15,000 homes or 22,000 hotel rooms, said Gilbert Cohen, senior vice president of Acciona.

Potentially, the site, which is now 300 acres, could be built up to provide 2,000 megawatts of power.

(Editors' note: Check back Monday for a full story about the Nevada Solar One power plant.)

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2,000 megawatts?
Could we scale that back to 1.21 gigawatts and hook a Mr. Fusion up to it, just for old times' sake?
Posted by Christopher Hall (1205 comments )
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Green This!
I live in Las Vegas and I'd buy bottled water for my real lawn before I'd put in the "desert landscaping." Yea right, just back up a dump truck full of rock onto your front lawn and get some illegal aliens to spread it. Why not aliens! After all, once they lay down that rock, your yard looks like the planet Mars anyway. And let's talk about some of the other benefits of a rock yard. How about the "Oh my GOD does that HURT!" feeling the first time you try to cross it in your bare feet to get the paper. And let's not forget how great it is when a local dog walker allows said dog to take a dump on it. Thats right, it just sits there and gets nice and hard. Geologists a million years from now will be able to tell what breed of dogs roamed the earth thanks to those little petrified turds dumped on desert landscape. Oh, and let's not forget those "lovely" desert plants they add in after the rock. It looks like the an add for a movie entitled "attack of the crack-in-the-sidewalk plants." Lot's of nice spiney spikey desert weeds to poke out your kid's eye while they're outside playing. Sorry little Billy, I know the 3D movies suck after you popped your eyeball on that cactus. But aren't you happy about all the water daddy is saving? Oh, and then there's the other option getting some traction here in the valley; Astroturf for the home user. Yes, some folks are actually putting down plastic grass. I can only imagine what THAT smells like once the local cats come along and make a little wee wee on it. Nope, I'm gonna keep my nice green lawn that feels nice and cool on my bare feet in the summer. And I'll soak it with enough H2O to lower Lake Mead another inch if I have too!
Posted by Willie Winkie (123 comments )
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...who chose to live in a desert again?
No skin off my nose (it rains 99.999999999999999% of the time in this part of Oregon), but you were the one who moved to a desert, no?

You are currently being hydrated by an artificial lake of a finite capacity (and thanks to water-rights laws, most of that lake water isn't even LV's - it belongs to California, IIRC). Multiply your thoughts on the subject with that of a million other homeowners in the area, and I believe that water in Vegas will soon get more expensive per gallon than liquor. I'm also willing to bet that the casinos will get a higher priority on what's left than you will.

I've lived in Vegas before. There's approximately two days a year where the landscape is naturally green. The rest of the year, you're stuck w/ hard brown. But - you chose to live there. Sorry, it sucks, but thems the realities. I dealt with the ugliness of LV's suburba-scape by moving elsewhere - 15 years ago.

If you don't like the neighborhood dogs dumping in your yard, put up a fence big enough to keep all but the most obtuse butthead's dog out. That guy and his dog can be dealt with according to local trespassing laws by that point.

(and nobody said you had to plant cacti anyway... geez.)

Posted by Penguinisto (5042 comments )
Link Flag
Proud aren't you?
Thanks for making me feel less of an a--hole in comparison to you.
Posted by pjianwei (206 comments )
Link Flag
Crossed Incentives
The most economical sutuation is to pump at night when grid
power is cheap and to put the solar output into the grid during the
day when power is expensive. Instead wrongheaded incentives will
have them pump during the day. It makes no economic sense.
Posted by zimjh (1 comment )
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I thought the same thing. It sounds like they are switching from a good solution to a slightly worse one because of some short-sighted incentives.
Posted by viss9434 (22 comments )
Link Flag
Vegas is Green!!
Come to Indiana and a two BR condo and pay a $125 NG bill, a $65 electric bill and a combined $125 water and sewerage bill and not be "green" one tiny bit.
Posted by sgentry1290 (1 comment )
Reply Link Flag
$150 a month for a 2 bed room condo?
And he is shouting? No wonder Bush have to invade Iraq.
Come on its not for nothing that you guys are consuming the most energy per capita. Can people survive with less energy use? well we have for the past few millenniums sans the last 2 centuries.
Posted by pjianwei (206 comments )
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lets all go solar!
I hope this research continues. There is a solar solution that consumers can take advantage of right now. I am a manager with a brand new company called CitizenRe. If you ever wanted to help the environment and get most of your energy from the sun and not from your dirty energy provider, this company will provide you a solar solution with NO UPFRONT COST! Please investigate and continue discussion in this thread:

After you get real excited about this program and want to help spread this GREEN solution, go to:
Posted by yorkvillesolar (9 comments )
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Hoover Dam Hydro-Power?
Doesn't Las Vegas get all of it's electricity from the nearby Hoover
Dam Hydro-Power & Colorado River?

Hydro-power is GREEN renewable energy source too.

Green is GREAT & I am all for it, but I am missing something here?

Good idea with vast amount of solar energy in Las Vegas Nevada.
Posted by Llib Setag (951 comments )
Reply Link Flag
Good article on some of the efforts the city is making, but why aren't the casinos doing more? I just got back from Vegas and wrote up a review on my thoughts about how much more needs to be done in terms of sustainability:
Posted by ckmapawatt (5 comments )
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