While Las Vegas may face serious issues related to water (see previous post), its environment does allow for a particular application of Hurd and Hurd’s principle of “reduce.” According to the National Oceanic and Atmospheric Administration, Las Vegas has the third highest percentage of annual possible sunshine (85%, see http://www1.ncdc.noaa.gov/pub/data/ccd-data/pctposrank.txt). And new technology is being leveraged in ways that may allow housing, in general, to become energy neutral through the use of solar technology.
Each year, the National Association of Home Builders hosts a New American Home series to showcase breakthroughs in design. This year’s design is a high-end, net-zero home located in Las Vegas, that the designer, Blue Heron Design/Build LLC, claims can be mass produced for roughly $700,000 per unit (http://on.wsj.com/1AN57CV). This price is clearly prohibitive, given that the average median home price in the Las Vegas-Paradise metropolitan area was $203,000 in the third quarter of 2014 (http://bit.ly/1scU8BL). But it portends the advances in energy efficiency that may be possible in the not too distant future. For an area like Las Vegas where nearly two million people occupy an area with average summer temperatures in the triple digits, this could be a game changer.
But it also represents a challenge to the principle of “reduce.” If the average citizen can slash his or her energy bills through the installation of solar paneling, etc., what incentive do planners and developers have to mandate and implement reductions in home size or increases in housing density? Las Vegas is a land of sprawl, and energy saving technology may facilitate the type of inertia that has precluded changes in the city’s development pattern since the market crash in 2008. Politicians are unlikely to encourage policy changes that call for increased density unless there is a clear consensus. While an idea like location-efficient mortgages that assess the percentage of an applicant’s monthly take-home pay spent on both mortgage and transportation costs would be useful here, I believe it is unlikely to be implemented if utility bills are decreasing and gas prices remain low.
While we should actively encourage energy efficiency and the use of alternative technologies, lets remember that there is more to the the principle of “reduce.”