Vegas Keeps Lights Burning as Tab Soars ; Electric Lights Define Las Vegas, and Even in a Power Crunch, Nevada Isn't about to Let It's Showcase Attraction Go Dark

Article excerpt

In energy-starved California these days, it's de rigueur to turn off the lights when they're not in use. And perish the thought of producing more illumination than really necessary: It's become a 40- watt culture.

But when Californians cross the Nevada border for Las Vegas, they see the power crunch in a different light.

Make that a lot of lights.

Miles outside the city, an orange glow can be seen in the sky. As visitors get closer, they come face to face with the almost kaleidoscopic shimmer of the Strip.

Downtown, Glitter Gulch is washed in perpetual daylight, thanks to millions of bulbs and miles of neon tubing. Monster casinos sport sequined facades and blinking marquees.

Some hotels here have made conservation moves, such as efficient bulbs. But dimmer switches aren't part of the plan.

This doesn't mean Nevada has no power concerns. The state, actually, just purchased additional power from Arizona, Colorado, and Utah to prevent rolling blackouts this summer.

But even as power prices here soar, the state is committed to bright lights. After all, that neon shimmer has everything to do with the image of Las Vegas - and with billions of dollars in tourism business that fuels this desert economy.

Of course, keeping the lights on during a region-wide power crunch doesn't come cheap. To cope, some megaresorts are adding a guest surcharge - and businesses and residents alike are being hit with higher energy bills.

Nevada is on the same power grid as California, "but we generate 50 percent of our own power.... The power we generate in southern Nevada is for use in southern Nevada," says Nevada Power spokeswoman Sonya Heading.

Still, casino owners were hit with a 27 percent rate increase earlier this year. Residential customers received a 17 percent increase. Those moves came atop earlier rate hikes.

The total electricity used to light all the downtown hotel- casino exteriors in one year, Ms. Heading says, would power 4,200 homes. Separately on the Strip, the electricity used for hotel- casino facades is enough to power 23,500 homes. …

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