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“Going Green in Reno: Peppermill Gets Geothermal.”


Although I don’t spend much time in casinos apart from Crystal Bay Casino, (and that’s only because it is Tahoe’s best music venue, thanks to Brent Harding & Blake Beeman!), the Reno Peppermill has just become my second favorite casino after CBC.

I visited the Peppermill last week where GreenUP! hosted Reno’s (almost) annual Golden Pinecone Ball. The first Golden Pinecone was awarded by Nevada Econet to Justice Cliff Young in 1988. The awards honor individuals and organizations for their environmental leadership. GreenUP!, which took over the awards this year, arranged for Dean Parker, Executive Facility Director of the Peppermill, to lead a group of us on a tour of the resort’s geothermal facilities before the awards ceremony.

As part of its recent expansion during 2006-2010 when the resort doubled in size the Peppermill invested $9.7 million in geothermal energy, which it now uses to heat all of the water used throughout the resort as well as the resort itself. The Peppermill began using geothermal energy to heat its pools in the 1980s. In 2007, it expanded its geothermal use to heat its Tuscany Tower, including the hotel rooms, spa & fitness center and outdoor pools and spas. During the Peppermill’s most recent and significant expansion of its physical footprint it also sought to reduce its environmental one and though the water is scalding, it doesn’t hurt that the renewable energy system also makes incredibly good economic sense.

Once operational the geothermal heating process is simple and requires very little maintenance. However, for the Peppermill the set-up was anything but simple. It involved running pipes below and through existing structures, when such systems usually are put into place before as a building is being constructed. Nonetheless, the Peppermill’s bet paid off. 

Drilling 4,400 feet into the ground, the Peppermill found a well (called a production well) that consistently pumps 164 degree water at the rate of 1,200 gallons per minute at 150 psi (pounds per square inch). The Peppermill then stores this water in giant tanks from which it gets distributed for use in the hotel and resort’s pools, bathrooms, restaurants, etc.

To heat and cool the property, the Peppermill uses a closed loop hydronic heating and cooling system. This system works with nature to keep cold water cold using cooling towers while hot water is heated by geothermal energy. The water comes up from a production well on one side of the Peppermill property and then after being used to regulate the air temperature in the building, it travels all the way across the property through lava rock before being injected back into the earth through the injection well.

By using  this system, the Peppermill is saving over $1,825,000 a year in cooling costs and $1,700,000 per year in heating costs for a total annual savings of $3,525,000. That means, the Peppermill’s geothermal system will be paid off in just under three years!
Geothermal isn’t the only green building initiative undertaken by the Peppermill. Although ineligible for LEED Gold status because it allows smoking indoors (easily fixed if you don’t mind alienating gamblers), the Peppermill just installed 30 plasma air generators to clean the air in the portions of the casino in which smoking is allowed. Hopefully it will gradually continue to reduce the smoking areas until they are no more. It’s also made lighting improvements and implemented building management software that have reduced its environmental footprint and paid off economically. The Peppermill’s next BHAG is to use geothermal energy for electricity, if it is feasible.

Sustainable casino may seem like the Granddaddy of oxymorons, but the Peppermill really is  doing a significant amount to reduce its footprint. Whether motivated by cash, or caring, or a combination thereof, the effect is the same. The Peppermill is doing well financially by doing good for the planet.

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