Yet the 50-story complex achieved an unlikely and lucrative milestone after opening in 2008. A powerful private organization declared it an environmentally friendly "green" building, the world's largest at the time.Much of the problem has to do with the fact that the certification comes early, and relies only on theoretical projections of energy use:
The designation won its owner, Las Vegas Sands Corp., a $27 million tax break over 10 years because a Nevada law puts the private interest group — not the government — in charge of deciding which buildings are green enough for a taxpayer subsidy.
The U.S. Green Building Council, a building industry non-profit, credited the Palazzo for having bike racks in the garage; room cards telling guests when towels are replaced; landscaping that does not use grass, which local law prohibits anyway; and preferred parking for fuel-efficient cars — spots that on a recent week were occupied by Ford Expeditions, Chevy Tahoes, Range Rovers, Mercedes E320s, Chrysler 300s, Audi A6s, vans, sports cars and a Hummer.
The council even sidestepped its own policy and allowed smoking in the Palazzo casino, a 2.5-acre expanse between the hotel lobby and the hotel elevators.
Across the United States, the Green Building Council has helped thousands of developers win tax breaks and grants, charge higher rents, exceed local building restrictions and get expedited permitting by certifying them as "green" under a system that often rewards minor, low-cost steps that have little or no proven environmental benefit, a USA TODAY analysis has found.
Designers can earn up to 19 points for projecting lower-than-average energy use. The projections come from computer models that analyze hundreds of features such as insulation and sun exposure. Such models are good at comparing designs to show which would use less energy. But they are bad at quantifying actual energy use, which depends largely on how a building is used and maintained.Using models for certification is one thing, but the $500 million in tax breaks that we've handed out should be contingent upon follow up reports showing energy use savings have been achieved.
"Buildings have a poor track record for performing as predicted during design," the council itself reported in 2007. "Most buildings do not perform as well as design metrics indicate."
The Environmental Protection Agency says "it is a common misconception that new buildings, even so-called 'green' buildings are energy-efficient." The EPA's voluntary EnergyStar program certifies only buildings that prove energy efficiency over a year of occupancy, and rates buildings every year.
A little-noticed study of Navy buildings in January showed that four of 11 LEED-certified buildings used more energy than a non-LEED counterpart. Of the seven others, four were better than their counterparts by 9%, a level of improvement that is insufficient to earn any LEED points.
"Energy savings are not closely related to the number of points received," concluded the study by University of Wisconsin researchers.