Solar-Powered Venues Are Hot Commodities

Meeting venues strengthen their solar power

Mandalay Bay rooftop solar

Last October, MGM Resorts International celebrated the completion of its rooftop solar array, covering 20 acres atop the Mandalay Bay Resort and Casino in Las Vegas. The 6.4-megawatt addition, created in partnership with green company NRG Energy, is expected to offset the property's sizable peak electricity demands by as much as 20 percent -- enough to power 1,000 U.S. homes annually.

"The completion of this solar array demonstrates our steadfast commitment to the principles of environmental responsibility...[and] reinforces that we're always looking to do more," Jim Murren, chairman and CEO of MGM Resorts International, said at the time of the completion.

It's the first array of its kind on the Strip, but it represents a growing trend at hotels and meeting-friendly properties across the globe, which are embracing solar power with increasing enthusiasm.

To name just a couple examples, Turtle Bay Resort on Oahu's North Shore is wrapping up a $45-million renovation, which will include the addition of 1,500 solar panels to the grounds. In California, a pair of hotels under construction -- the Hyatt Place in Santa Cruz and Lexington Hotel in Scotts Valley -- are planning to include solar panel systems in their design.

The growth in the installation of solar panels is driven in part by financial considerations. Not only does solar power save electricity costs in the long run, but in some cases federal or local governments offer tax breaks. In the case of the California hotels, they are taking advantage of the 504 financing from the U.S. Small Business Administration, which offers better terms to eco-friendly buildings.

It has also gotten more affordable to install solar panels. "Installed costs for solar photovoltaic systems have fallen dramatically in the last few years with annual rate of returns now well into the double digits," says Dan Szydlowski, regional director of Columbia Sussex, owners of The Westin Dawn Beach Resort & Spa, St. Maarten. "Output from the solar system is seamlessly integrated into the facility electrical load to help offset rising utility costs."

Earlier this year, the resort earned the distinction of being the first property in the Caribbean to generate one gigawatt hour of solar power -- that is, one billion watt-hours. It was a major milestone after the property completed a resort-wide solar initiative to harness the power of the Caribbean sun in June 2013.

Szydlowski adds that the emphasis on eco-friendly offerings helps in promoting the Westin to meetings groups. Lisa Kraus Gardner, marketing, communications & community manager for the Green Meeting Industry Council agrees that these solar efforts are a draw for groups.

"As an industry, we applaud and celebrate these types of accomplishments, and as we should," she says. "Whether it's solar technology, or water conservation, or waste reduction, all of these initiatives are measurable and can produce huge savings over the years for the venue, as well as demonstrate their commitment to conservation. Being eco-friendly or LEED-certified is something I believe meeting and event planners actively seek out in their venue selection." SM

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This article appears in the April 2015 issue of Successful Meetings.