Monthly Archives: July 2015

‘Green’ goals reflected in building trends

Craig A. Ruark/Special to the Las Vegas Business Press At Konami Gaming, the retrofitted 123,000-square-foot existing building and a 193,000-square-foot addition are pending LEED certification by the USGBC.

Craig A. Ruark/Special to the Las Vegas Business Press At Konami Gaming, the retrofitted 123,000-square-foot existing building and a 193,000-square-foot addition are pending LEED certification by the USGBC.

Despite the slow economic recovery, many businesses are seeing “green” as the path to a sustainable future and achieving a LEED certification by the U.S. Green Building Council (USGBC) as the Medal of Honor.

Las Vegas is home to 81 LEED-rated office, retail, and industrial buildings ranging from the basic certified level and up to silver, gold, and platinum levels. Of those buildings, 55 were designed specifically for energy and water savings, indoor air quality and other components that are part of the LEED certification criteria.

In addition, 20 of the businesses in the Las Vegas Valley have taken steps to modify existing buildings to attain a LEED certification and reap the benefits achieved in annual energy and water savings, as well as improvements in employee health, productivity and morale.

Here is a short list of some notable green building projects under construction:

• TJ Maxx operates a 300,000-square-foot warehouse and distribution center in North Las Vegas. The facility, completed in 2014, was not originally designed for LEED certification. After an analysis of the economic benefits, alterations were made including energy-efficient lighting, heating, and cooling; water savings features; and enhanced indoor air quality. Following the retrofit, documentation was sent to the USGBC and the building was given a LEED Silver certification under the €œexisting building€ criteria. Beyond the savings achieved in the operation and maintenance of the building, parent company TJX Cos. Inc. feels going green is the right thing to do for the environment. TJX is adding another 300,000 square feet to the building, this time designed specifically to meet LEED criteria for the new construction category.

• A 1 million-square-foot Levi Strauss distribution center off Executive Airport Drive in Henderson is nearing completion. While the company is awaiting completion of the building before announcing the level of sustainability achieved, the expansion was designed to take advantage of the latest energy and water savings technology, with a goal of meeting LEED certification criteria for the new construction category. The existing building has been updated and is awaiting LEED certification under the existing building criteria.

• The Konami Gaming building can be seen while driving along Sunset Road across from McCarran Airport, but what is not visible is the retrofit that was completed on the original 123,000-square-foot building under the LEED existing building criteria. A 193,000-square-foot expansion is under construction and will seek LEED certification for the new construction category.

• A building need not be massive to reap green benefits. In 2013, Jared Fisher and wife Heather, owners of Las Vegas Cyclery, completed construction on a new building near Town Center Drive and the 215. The Fishers, avid outdoor enthusiasts, achieved a LEED Platinum designation for their building, which uses little water and receives 100 percent of its energy from solar panels mounted on the roof, with energy to spare. The Fishers now are building an 8,300-square-foot retail space across the parking lot from their existing store, with a goal of a LEED gold rating under the USGBC core and shell criteria. The building incorporates most of the same environmentally sustainable elements as the original store, including a rooftop solar system that will provide 40 percent of the building’s power. The Fishers hope to lease half of the new building to a food-oriented tenant that also is sustainability oriented.

• One candidate for the Fishers’ new building might be LYFE Kitchen, which operates a restaurant in Henderson’€™s The District at Green Valley Ranch. LYFE is in the process of achieving a LEED certification for each of its 12 locations around the country, including Henderson, under the USGBC interior design and construction criteria for retail establishments.

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Green building was just the start for Axtell

Tom Axtell, general manager of Vegas PBS, is shown with one of the solar panel arrays on the roof of the station at 3050 E. Flamingo Road. (Bill Hughes/Las Vegas Business Press)

Tom Axtell, general manager of Vegas PBS, is shown with one of the solar panel arrays on the roof of the station at 3050 E. Flamingo Road. (Bill Hughes/Las Vegas Business Press)

When faced with the decision to move KLVX-€“TV Channel 10 television from its old studio location, Tom Axtell had no idea of the journey into the world of sustainability that awaited him.

It’€™s a journey that he’€™s embraced for 21 years, long past the immediate task of a new building and stretching into the future as he works for sustainability causes.

“€œWe are temporary stewards of the Earth for the time we walk upon it and need to leave it in the best shape that we can for future generations,”€ said Axtell, who locally is a supporter of the Nevada chapter of the U.S. Green Building Council.

In 1994, Axtell moved his family from Milwaukee to Las Vegas to become general manager of the local PBS station. What he inherited was a building constructed in 1976 that had shortcomings such as a leaking swamp cooler that was creating mold and sick building syndrome for the occupants.

When the Telecommunications Act of 1996 mandated the transition of all television stations from analog to digital broadcast technology by 2006, Axtell needed to identify what it meant to be a digital broadcaster. After extensive research, Axtell knew two things: The station needed a new building that was healthier for his employees and he needed a building that could adapt to changing technology.

Because digital technology enabled so much more than sending a single TV signal to viewers, the station was rebranded as Vegas PBS. Axtell’s vision included not only a main production studio but smaller classroom learning studios where teachers could develop courses for students. The idea was that those courses could be watched at school, home, or on a computer.

So Axtell started a quiet campaign to entice community investors to participate in the funding of the new television studio and distance learning center. The project was a 50-50 partnership between the Clark County School District and a successful $72 million capital funding campaign from community supporters.

Designs for the new Vegas PBS building started in 2002, at a time when “€œgreen buildings”€ were still a novelty and only two years after the U.S. Green Building Council announced its building certification program under the Leadership in Energy and Environmental Design or LEED program.

Axtell’s learning curve was steep, not only in the design of a green building but the emerging digital technology.

The result of Axtell’s commitment to the community and the environment is the first LEED Gold certified broadcast facility in the world.

Incorporated into the building are elements of electronics, flooring, wall coverings, furnishings and insulation materials that meet Environmental Protection Agency indoor clean air recommendations and Greenguard Environmental Institute standards for low off-gassing of hazardous chemicals and particulates. Combined with green cleaning practices using nonvolatile cleaning products, the new building’s indoor air quality is superior to most buildings, resulting in a reduction of employee sick days by 27 percent during the first year of occupancy. All wood furniture products are certified by the Forest Sustainability Council for replanting and minimization of topsoil run-off.

In addition, Axtell incorporated a geothermal system consisting of 202 wells drilled to an average depth of 425 feet, saving approximately 20 percent a year on air conditioning costs. Combined with a rooftop solar system that supplies 18 percent of the electrical demand and the use of improved indoor lighting technology have resulted in a per-square-foot energy reduction to one-half of the comparable buildings.

Since completing the construction of the building in 2009, Axtell has been a leading advocate of being green.

He personally gives regular tours of Vegas PBS, happy to point out not only the green aspects of the building but the advanced digital technology that have been incorporated.

“€œAs a broadcaster, it is important that we lead by example, deciding to build a green building is not only good for the environment, it is good for the bottom line as well. If you build an efficient building your operating costs are going to be less — forever,”€ Axtell says.

Axtell graduated from Gonzaga University Law School in Spokane, Wash., and holds a bachelor’s degree in history from Macalester College in St. Paul, Minn. He has been married for 37 years and has twin daughters.

He is a member of the national PBS board of directors and has served on the boards of United Way, Atomic Testing Museum, Rotary Foundation and Utah Shakespeare Festival.

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Lithium + batteries + Tesla = opportunity


While gold and silver may be the glamor children of Nevada’€™s mining industry, lithium is the workhorse.

And at the intersection of increased lithium mining, Nevada’s capacity for world-class battery research and manufacturing and Tesla’€™s Gigafactory lies opportunity.

Nevada could be on the cusp of becoming a leader in energy storage technology.

Located next to the small town of Silver Peak, in Esmeralda County, is the Chemetall-Foote lithium mine. It opened in 1966 and is the only operating source of lithium in North America. Aside from Nevada, most of the known supply of lithium is in Bolivia, Argentina, Chile, Australia and China.

Lithium is a silver-white metal — soft enough to be cut with a knife — commonly obtained from brine and clay. A member of the alkali metal group of chemical elements, lithium is the lightest metal and the least dense solid element. Like all alkali metals, lithium is highly reactive and flammable.

About 26 percent of the lithium mined in the world is for use in batteries. A $10,000 battery for a plug-in hybrid auto contains about $100 worth of lithium. Fears of a shortage of lithium have been resonating among both suppliers and manufacturers as they face the dramatic growth of the electric vehicle market and solar energy storage needs.

Seeing a demand growth, the Chemetall-Foote operation, which produces about three million pounds of lithium a year, is being expanded to double its capacity. The project is funded in part by a $28.4 million grant from the U.S. Department of Energy.

Ownership carousel

Albemarle Corp., a premier specialty chemical company headquartered in Baton Rouge, La., is anticipating an increased value in lithium and closed in January on its $6.2 billion acquisition of Rockwood Holdings, owner of the Chemetall-Foote mining operation.

However, the ink may not be fully dried on the Albemarle deal when the mine will once again change hands.

BASF, one of the world’s largest chemical manufacturers, has made it a goal to become one of the top three suppliers of battery materials by 2020 and may soon close its own deal to acquire Albemarle Corp.

Meanwhile, the Chemetall-Foote mine may see some competition from Reno-based Western Lithium Corp. What is being touted to be the fifth-largest lithium deposit in the world has recently been identified in Nevada’s Humboldt County, near the Oregon border, and Western Lithium and is diligently working on plans to begin mining that deposit by 2017.

Not by coincidence, the Tesla Battery Gigafactory now being constructed in an industrial park east of Reno, is also a convenient four-hour drive north of the Chemetall-Foote lithium mine, and a nearly equal distance south of the soon to open Western Lithium mine. Tesla expects to produce up to 500,000 lithium batteries at the plant’s peak in 2020. Mass production at that level is projected to reduce the cost of each battery by up to 30 percent. It is expected that Chemetall-Foote will not only provide all of the needed lithium for the Tesla Gigafactory, but it could also supply the much-needed electrode materials as well.

Tesla’s plans

Tesla Factory

Tesla manufactures 50,000 Model S automobiles per year, which brings up the question as to the need for a Gigafactory that can produce 500,000 batteries. The answer might be in the most anticipated and significant electric car announcement to date — the new Tesla Model 3 that is scheduled to hit the market in 2017.

With a starting price around $35,000 and a range of 200 plus miles, the cars are targeted to reach sales of 500,000 per year by 2020. However, for all of the hype surrounding the new Model 3, virtually nothing is known about the technical details of the automobile. Vague descriptions by Tesla founder Elon Musk have led automobile experts to speculate that the Model 3 will be about the size of a BMW 3 and weigh between 3,100 and 3,600 pounds.

Along with speculation about the new Tesla Model 3 are speculation about the battery technology. While lithium will continue to be a major component, experts think Tesla’s scientists are experimenting with other components that will allow the battery to hold more of a charge and run cooler than current technology.

But Tesla is not the only company to be putting pressure on the lithium reserves. In January of this year, Mary Barra, CEO of General Motors, introduced the Chevy Bolt, which is also scheduled to arrive in 2017. The Bolt is an all-electric vehicle described as a “€œtallish five-door hatchback crossover,”€ with a $30,000 price tag (after government rebates), and a range of 200 plus miles.

Henderson competitor

While the announcement of Tesla’€™s Gigafactory has put Nevada in the recent spotlight, it is not the first lithium battery plant to open in the state.

K2 Energy has been quietly making advances in the development of lithium-powered batteries at its Henderson facility since April 30, 2013. K2 Energy manufactures lightweight, high energy density lithium iron phosphate batteries, which it ships to clients around the world, including the U.S. military.

Three years ago, after hearing about electrical fires aboard Boeing’€™s 787 Dreamliner aircraft caused by lithium-ion batteries, John Stoker, CEO of K2 Energy, and his team of engineers set out to build safer and more powerful lithium iron phosphate batteries for the aerospace industry.

In a demonstration of its technology, K2 Energy teamed up with Las Vegas-based Shelby Automotive to build a custom battery system to power its Cobra 427 electric vehicle. The result was a more than impressive 0-60 acceleration in 3.2 seconds, and a range of 170 miles without a plume of exhaust fumes trailing behind.

In addition to electric vehicles, lithium batteries are also being touted as the key to energy storage from solar and wind generating systems. One such company, Juice Box Energy Inc., is using lithium batteries as a part of its residential package to store energy from rooftop solar systems. Already approved for installation in California, Juice Box is working with Nevada regulators to approve their technology for residential installation.

If successful, Juice Box could solve the net metering debate and be a viable alternative to sending the residential power back into the grid.

The construction of Tesla’s Gigafactory and the expected battery manufacturing jobs are an economic boost to northern Nevada. In addition, earlier this year the State Transportation Board unanimously approved a $70 million design-build project for State Highway 439, also known as USA Parkway. The USA Parkway already consists of 5.4 miles of four-lane highway built by the owners of the industrial park where Tesla is building its Gigafactory. The $70 million investment from the state will extend the road 21 miles and provide a connection between I-80 and U.S. 50, giving more direct access to the 107,000-acre industrial park for the workers who live in the communities of Yerington, Dayton, Stagecoach, and Carson City. It will also shorten the route from the Chemetall-Foote mine to the Gigafactory.

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Brooks powering new community solar project

Chris Brooks is a native Nevadan with a passion for preserving and protecting the state that he loves.

Today, he’s parlaying his deep experience in solar technology into developing one of the largest community solar projects in the country.

After graduating from Clark High School in 1990, Brooks immediately started working as an apprentice electrician at Brooks Electric, a company owned by his grandfather. His on-the-job training was extensive and fast-paced, thanks to a couple of major contracts that included electrical infrastructure upgrades and installation at Nellis AFB and Indian Springs Auxiliary Air Field, now known as Creech AFB.

In 2000, a shortage of electricity supply caused by market manipulations, illegal shutdowns by the Texas energy consortium Enron, and capped retail electricity prices caused multiple large-scale blackouts in neighboring California.

Brooks began looking at Nevada’s energy regulations and saw an opportunity to make an impact by building distributed energy generation projects through the use of solar. He formed Las Vegas Solar Electric in 2000 and completed his first renewable energy project in 2001.

In 2004, Brooks joined with Bombard Electric and served as the director of Bombard Renewable Energy until 2014.

“During that time we installed well over 1,000 industrial and residential solar projects throughout Southern Nevada. I stopped counting after reaching 100 megawatts,” said Brooks. “I am most proud of seeing what has become of the solar industry in Nevada, from the humble beginnings back in 2000 to today, and knowing that I played a role in making that happen.”

Brooks’ accomplishments include the design and installation of, what was at the time, the largest rooftop solar array in the valley at a vitamin manufacturing facility in Henderson. He also was involved in building the Nellis Solar Power Plant, the second largest ground-mounted solar system in North America when it was completed. The plant utilizes 70,000 solar panels, occupying 140 acres of land, and generates 14.2 MW of power.

Past accomplishments aside, Brooks doesn’t show any signs of slowing down.

In 2014, he joined Valley Electric Association, Inc. as the executive vice president of energy services. VEA is a member-owned cooperative, nonprofit electric utility headquartered in Pahrump. VEA was founded in 1965 as a result of various mergers and acquisitions of small local community cooperatives that back to 1940.

Today, VEA has 18,000 members equaling more than 45,000 people spread over 6,800 square miles mainly in Nevada along the Nevada-California state border. VEA’s residential members are the co-op’s largest single consumer group, but the company’s customers have grown to include some high-profile federal government facilities in Nevada — the Nevada National Security Site and Creech Air Force Base.

Planning for increased load demand and accommodating member growth are among the challenges VEA faces as it looks to the future. VEA does not generate the electrical energy it supplies to members and buys most of its power on the open market. However, Brooks is helping to change that dynamic.

With Brooks on board, VEA is in the permitting and design stage for the development of one of the largest community solar project in the country, where 100 percent of the energy generated will be delivered to the contributing participants. The project will be built on 80 acres of property in Pahrump and generate over 15 MW of power. (On average, one megawatt of power is enough to power 165 homes.)

“One of the important aspects of this project is that 100 percent of the solar panels, inverters, and steel used in this project will be manufactured in the USA,” said Brooks. “In addition, all of the engineering design consultants and contractors used on the project will be Nevada residents.” The project is estimated to provide jobs for over 200 workers at its peak.

Along with providing long lasting renewable energy, Brooks is also taking precautions to protect the natural environment. The solar panels will be constructed in such a way as to preserve the natural plant life and Desert Tortoise habitat. In addition, the solar panels will be spaced in such a way that the system does not look like a lake from the air and distract migratory birds.

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Up close and virtual: Tomorrow’s tech gets stage at expo