MGM Resorts' New Solar Array Pushing Las Vegas in a More Sustainable Direction
by Leon Kaye
With its ongoing water struggles, the vast amounts of energy and resources going toward recreating cities such as Paris and Venice, and its bawdy reputation as a party town, sustainability is the last topic that comes to mind when thinking about Las Vegas. But Sin City is drenched in sun, and the ample roof space throughout the city offers the local hospitality sector opportunities to reduce costs via solar power and demonstrate it can be a more responsible industry. To that end, MGM Resorts International announced last week it has completed the installation of what it’s calling the world’s largest rooftop solar array on a convention center.
Covering 20 acres on the Mandalay Bay Resort and Casino’s 1.7 million square feet of convention space, over 21,000 solar panels will provide 6.4 megawatts of clean energy to the complex. MGM says the energy generated from the rooftop array is enough to power 1,000 American homes while displacing about 6,300 metric tons of carbon dioxide. The array will also help lower demand on southern Nevada’s electricity grid during the hot summer days.
The project was a partnership between MGM and New Jersey-based NRG Energy, which financed, built and now owns and operates the array. Through a power purchase agreement (PPA), Mandalay Bay will buy the energy generated by the solar array. For MGM, the business and environmental benefits are substantial because the project will provide approximately 20 percent of Mandalay Bay’s electricity needs. To learn more about MGM’s decision to investing in solar and how it ties into the company’s growing focus on sustainability, I spoke with Chris Brophy, MGM Resorts’ VP of environmental compliance.
“We’ve been trying to incorporate solar and other renewables into our portfolio since 2005,” Brophy said, when asked what motivated MGM to make a large commitment to solar energy. MGM’s massive City Center was one of the company’s first projects boasting more sustainable technologies, with a natural gas cogeneration plant that provides hot water using waste heat and in turn generates 10 percent of the complex’s power. City Center also incorporated water- and energy-efficiency projects within its construction, leading it to score several LEED gold certifications upon opening in 2009. Meanwhile MGM’s executives kept their eyes on Mandalay Bay’s convention center roof, and began to conceptualize plans for an array on top of it back in 2007.
After multiple plans, designs and iterations, construction began last year. Brophy explained that the total time needed to complete the project, once the final plans were approved, took about 18 months. Part of the puzzle for MGM was deciding how to finance the array — should they invest in the project with company funds, or look to an outside company to construct and operate it? MGM settled on having a company with expertise in large-scale renewable energy projects to take on the risk, and hence developed the PPA with NRG Renew, the clean energy division of NRG Energy. As Brophy explained, NRG could take the lead on the regulatory environment and benefit from the available federal energy tax breaks and incentives, while MGM could purchase the electricity immediately at a reduced rate.
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