Las Vegas conjures up images of casinos and a hedonistic lifestyle, but the city has now been making the headlines for different reasons, in that it now boasts of powering its public facilities solely from renewable energy.
The city’s clean energy mission was accomplished in December last year, through an agreement with the state investor owned utility NV Energy, where solar power will be supplied via a now operational plant from nearby Boulder City.
Coupled with power provided from NV Energy, every public building, park, traffic light, and streetlight will be served by renewable energy.
This makes Las Vegas the first large municipality in the United States to achieve such a high volume of green power, producing a carbon footprint, the city government says, that is the same as what is was back in 1950.
Las Vegas’ efforts date back to 2006, when the then Mayor Oscar B. Goodman signed the U.S. Conference of Mayor’s Climate Protection Agreement. Two years later, targets were set by the City Council to increase the levels of renewable energy production, and reduce gas emissions via their Sustainable Energy Strategy. Since that agreement eleven years ago, the city government has invested in several renewable energy projects, and has now devoted $70 million to the cause.
Alongside the Boulder City solar park, a three-megawatt solar plant at the city’s Water Pollution Control Facility now provides power for extensive wastewater treatment. A total of 40 buildings in the city - from community centres to fire stations and parks - have approximately three megawatts of net-metered solar covered parking.
Looking to the future, in October this year, Las Vegas will receive two megawatts of hydropower from the Hoover Dam. According to city government statistics, the reversion to renewables has paid off economically, as energy costs have been reduced from a peak of $15 million in 2008 to less than $10 million last year.
A spokesperson for the Las Vegas administration said: “It is very significant for the city of Las Vegas, a long-time leader in sustainability, Las Vegas is the first city of its size in the United States to rely on 100 percent renewable energy.”
“Las Vegas is a prime example of what can be achieved, from our alternative fuelled fleets to our solar power generation. We believe that this will prompt other major cities to do the same.” Related: Where Will Oil Prices Go This Year?
Marlene Motyka, Renewables Energy Leader, Deloitte LLP, is not in full agreement that this will be the case, she reflected: “It’s hard to say if one city making an announcement will prompt other cities, but it’s clear that more cities and states are looking to utilize more renewables. It’s driven by environmental and economic reasons.”
Deliotte’s Renewable Energy Outlook 2017 study revealed that, due to the falling costs of wind and solar, the American consumer now feels more confident to make use of energy choices. Local energy procurement is now increasingly in mode, with many municipalities taking advantage of community choice aggregation (CCA) policies as community solar becomes increasingly popular.
There is evidence, Motyka explained, that the model being used by the Las Vegas city government is being replicated in the private sector. As several casinos in the city recently came together and paid to get out of their power supply contracts, ironically with NV Energy, as they plan to purchase and produce electricity from renewables. This strategy is being largely driven by business reasons, with the companies that use their conference space being increasingly demanding about responsible energy usage.
While both Nevada and California have a high amount of economical electricity available from solar sources. Not everyone is convinced over the assertions from Las Vegas that public buildings are now running entirely on renewable energy.
Chris Warren, from the Washington based Institute for Energy Research (IER), exclaimed: “Las Vegas is not powered solely by renewable energy. In fact, it is largely powered by natural gas. The Las Vegas city government is claiming that they're powering their buildings with 100 percent renewables, which is an entirely different claim.” And even that claim he found to be suspect, arguing that “In many cases when companies or towns claim to be powered by renewables, they're buying Renewable Energy Credits, not actually running on wind or solar.” He added: “As long as you're using power from the grid, you can't pick and choose what sources your electricity comes from.”
The institute believes that it is just not feasible that any major city can run itself on renewable energy, as most of the electricity in the United States comes from coal, natural gas, and nuclear power. Furthermore, the intermittent and unreliable nature of wind and solar power make the claim increasingly unrealistic. Related: The Drug Cartels Are Taking Advantage Of Mexico’s Gas Protests
Coal, natural gas and nuclear power are considered to be much more dependable form of power, and the IER alludes to the subsidies that are commanded by renewable energy, whether it's federal subsidies, state mandates, or regulations targeting other sources. “Government largesse can't make up for the fact that wind and solar are expensive, inherently unreliable, and can't be used to meet our everyday energy needs.” Warren concluded.
Other cities in the United States also have the vision to be reliant on renewable energy, including Burlington, Georgetown, and Aspen. San Diego is also looking to be 100 percent powered from renewable sources, which would eclipse Las Vegas as the largest municipality in the country to power itself in this way. It’s a target that they wish to achieve by 2035, in what was a response to the Paris Accord, and a clear display of commitment to reduce carbon emissions, which they believe will create jobs in the city.
Other major cities like San Francisco and New York intend to have more of their electricity supplied like renewables, but haven’t committed to a 100 percent capacity from them. Only time will tell if city government ideals on renewables are met, or whether the change of administration to the less renewable energy friendly Trump administration, will have any effect.
By Peter Taberner for Oilprice.com
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