Cities often convert city-owned buildings first, then try for the whole town.
Image: Scott Swigart/Flickr
Las Vegas is best known for its blinding neon signs and indulgent venues, but more recently the city government has set its sights on keeping the lights on in a more sustainable way.
Las Vegas's city-owned buildings and other public infrastructure are now entirely powered by renewable energy as of December, including about 48,000 streetlamps, lights inside City Hall and power at city parks, Las Vegas spokesman Jace Radke said.
"The move to renewable energy has been seamless," Mayor Carolyn G. Goodman said in a statement. "The city of Las Vegas has long been a leader in sustainability, and becoming the first large city in the country to rely on 100 percent renewable energy [for city-owned buildings] is an incredible accomplishment that sets a great example for our residents and businesses."
Of course, the restaurants, casinos and homes in Las Vegas still mostly get their power from plants that run on traditional fossil fuels. Nevada as a whole relies heavily on gas and coal for its power generation—63.9 percent of its energy comes from petroleum, and 18.2 percent comes from coal. About 18 percent of the state's energy comes from renewable sources like geothermal, solar and hydroelectric energy, according to Colorado State University/The Nature Conservancy's energy tracking tool.
More cities are expected to jump on the renewable energy bandwagon, either entirely or to power their municipal-owned buildings, as a way to meet climate targets and to save money. Cities across the country, including Denver, Los Angeles and San Francisco, are studying how to move their residents, businesses and city buildings toward renewable energy, Sierra Club spokesman Shane Levy told Motherboard. St. Petersburg, Florida, was one of the most recent cities to jump into that initiative, becoming the first city in Florida to make a commitment to renewable energy.
National Renewable Energy Laboratory spokesman Eric O'Shaughnessy told Motherboard about 10 percent of cities in the US have an established renewable energy goal, and most cities that reach 100 percent renewable energy start the process by converting their city-owned operations to green power. He said the 10 percent figure is from a 2016 survey by the International City/County Management Association.
"There is a general consensus that cities are increasingly interested in renewable energy for both environmental and economic reasons, especially if you are working on the timeframe of several decades," he said.
"Environmentally, going 100% renewable is a big step toward achieving sustainability goals. Economically, some cities have been able to actually save money by entering into long-term contracts for renewable energy that beat the rates they were previously paying for electricity."
Las Vegas had been moving toward the goal by working with energy company NVEnergy, and when a large solar project was completed near Boulder City, the city was able to buy the rest of the energy it needed to run all city-owned buildings on renewable energy, the Las Vegas Review-Journal reported.
The switch to renewable energy cost the Las Vegas city government about $47 million, and it is expected save $5 million a year in energy bills due to the switch, Radke said.
"So it is a nine- to 10-year pay-back, which is really good," he said.
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