Greening the Airwaves

Vegas PBS’ eco-friendly station makes for better TV

With 14 miles of colorful wires snaking through its central data system and four times more space than before, the new $60 million Vegas PBS building seems like it would be an energy hog. But KLVX-TV (Channel 10) is operating under a concept foreign to Las Vegas: Consume less and do more.

The finishing touches of the yearlong transition from PBS’ old building could include becoming the first TV station in the nation that meets the U.S. Green Building Council’s second-highest level of green building recognition—the Gold certification standard in Leadership in Energy and Environmental Design (LEED). The 108,000-square-foot station near East Flamingo Road and McLeod Drive will consume 45 percent less energy than a typical structure that meets Clark County’s building code and use about one-fifth of the electricity than its previous building. The cost savings will allow the station to spend more on its PBS Virtual High School and emergency response system services, as well as new TV programming.

“I’d much rather hire producers and writers to do television shows, and educators to do online training, than to use that same money to pay the electric and gas bills,” general manager Tom Axtell says.

To earn Gold certification, a building has to rack up points in five green design standards, including sustainable sites, water efficiency, energy and atmosphere, materials and resources, and indoor environmental quality. Achieving Gold is a lofty goal for any building, but especially so for a TV station, says Marie Coleman, a spokeswoman for the U.S. Green Building Council. “The thought should be, ‘If a TV station can be green and high-performing, then certainly my building can and should be,’” she says.

Vegas PBS, which comprises 13 channels—three broadcast, four cable and satellite and six closed-circuit—will conserve electricity by using water cooled in 400-foot-deep geothermal wells to cool the station, saving about 20 percent in lifetime costs. A pump feeds lukewarm water down the wells and the ground naturally cools it, instead of having to store water in chillers. “These are $200,000 chillers that need replacement every 15 years,” Axtell says. “It’s a tremendous savings.” The building also has 715-kilowatt solar panels that capture energy from the sun to be used for electricity, and a sloped roof that collects rainwater to be recycled for irrigation. Even the offices are better for the environment; everything from the fabric on the chairs to the paint on the walls is toxin free.

These conservation efforts mean it’s cheaper for the station to cool its wiring, allowing greater server space. And larger servers mean increased online class offerings for more than 7,000 students at the PBS Virtual High School, the only PBS-supported distance learning public school in the country. With more network space and more physical space, the school has been able to provide computers and classrooms for students to complete speeches or science labs, portions of classes that require teacher-student meetings. Many are students whose classes—oftentimes advanced placement—were eliminated by district budget cuts.

The station’s increased server size also means it’s a local security hub with the ability to send out information to citizens, police and news affiliates in the event of an emergency. It also has wired and wireless connections to emergency operation centers, schools and hospitals. The station could not only operate but also broadcast by use of a generator for seven to 10 days in the event of a power outage. “[The events of] 9/11 happened during the planning process of the building,” Axtell says. “It made us think about how we would make sure our building would function in that situation and our responsibility to the community.”