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Vegas: A sinful waste of energy

http://www.gulf-daily-news.com/NewsDetails.aspx?storyid=354308

I have visited Las Vegas several times before to attend business conventions or on vacation.

During each visit I was amazed to discover another major change in the city. Landmark buildings implode and new large thematic structures rise in an area of less than three miles.

The valley was inhabited by Native Americans more than 10,000 years ago, but until 1931- when gaming was legalised in the state of Nevada - the city was just a stop on the railroad connecting Salt Lake City with Southern California.

Today, Las Vegas has a population of more than 500,000 with a short strip housing perhaps the largest number of hotel rooms and the most illuminated lights anywhere in the world. It is the only place where you can find close to life size replicas of the Eiffel Tower within walking distance of New York's Statue of Liberty.

Tourists wouldn't realise they were in the middle of the desert as they walked by artificial waterfalls or strolled alongside a Venice-like canal, complete with gondolas, in a climate-controlled setting with special lighting effects and fake blue skies - or sipping coffee along manmade, lakeside promenades and beach clubs.

There is something for everyone in Sin City, from green PGA golf courses to dolphins and unique habitats for captive large Asian and Siberian tigers in adjacent enclosures.

Las Vegas is the place where impersonators of Michael Jackson and Elvis Presley bring them back to life, or unite members of long-disbanded The Beatles on stage.

The inexpensive hotels and complementary stays to attract gamblers and tourists of the 1980s have vanished, as Las Vegas has become a major tourist attraction and a number one business convention destination.

Hosting around 3,750 conventions annually, Las Vegas attracts more business conventions than any other US city. It receives about 39 million visitors a year, staying at one of its more than 124,000 hotel rooms concentrated along the short strip. Of all city visitors, only five per cent say they come to gamble.

But with the false promise of easy money and the allure of gaming facilities, 87pc end up gambling before they leave. The large number of visitors comes with high environmental cost, especially in water and power consumption.

Hotel denizens are asked to conserve water by opting not to wash their linens daily. Bathrooms are equipped with low flush vacuum toilets and water-saving shower heads.

But these measures barely make a dent, as one large hotel washes 15,000 pillowcases a day and others flaunt their indoor beaches, 22m-gallon dancing fountains and special lighting effects at night.

As for electricity, Las Vegas consumes more than 5,600 megawatts (MW) on a summer day, which is expected to reach 8,000 by 2015. The city's estimated 10m dazzling neon light tubes offer a clue to the high level power consumption.

To put it pictorially, if the tubes were lined up end to end they would measure more than 20,000km. On average, each MW can supply approximately 1,000 homes - meaning, Las Vegas uses enough energy to electrify 5.6m homes, or a city with a population close to 20m people. To rein in energy waste, the municipality wants to phase out incandescent lights and replace them with Light-Emitting Diode lighting, which is smaller in size and uses less energy.

There is a common joke in Southern California for people returning from Nevada.

"What was your share of Vegas' electric bill?" they are asked.

These days, however, even the most steadfast among us - those 13pc who can resist the pull of the casinos - pay for the dazzling lights in higher hotel rates and hidden special hospitality fees.