Catching rays

Non-profit installs 100th solar project

Principal Sue Egloff cuts the ribbon in celebration of Stead Elementary School’s new solar array.

Principal Sue Egloff cuts the ribbon in celebration of Stead Elementary School’s new solar array.


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There hasn’t been much good news for solar energy enthusiasts in Nevada in 2016. Weathering the storm, however, is local non-profit Black Rock Solar, which celebrated the construction of its 100th solar project in May—a 125 kilowatt solar array installed at Stead Elementary School.

On the morning of May 25, officials from the Washoe County School District, NV Energy, Stead Elementary School and Black Rock Solar gathered near a lively playground at the school for a ribbon-cutting. There, behind a beige-colored fence, an array of 471 ground-mounted solar panels soaked up the morning sun, generating electricity that is expected to save the school approximately $16,500 per year.

According to school district energy manager Jason Geddes, Stead Elementary School used about 391,000 kilowatt hours (kWh) of electricity in 2015. The new solar panels will provide about 257,000 kWh per year, meeting approximately 66 percent of the school’s electricity needs. Thirty-six out of 93 schools in the district now use solar power for some portion of their electricity, said Geddes.

This project, funded by NV Energy and constructed by Black Rock Solar, is part of the Lower Income Solar Energy Pilot program created by the Nevada Legislature in 2013 under Assembly Bill 428. Under this program, NV Energy will provide two megawatts of power to low income communities before 2017. The first megawatt will go to low income schools throughout the state, four of which—including Stead Elementary—are located in Northern Nevada. The second will benefit 10 nonprofit organizations.

“It’s important to note that the $420,000 investment made into this facility today was paid for by the customers of NV Energy,” said NV Energy renewable energy director Jesse Murray. “I think if all of them were here today—and many of you are NV Energy customers—they would agree that this installation is helping to support a very worthwhile cause.”

In December 2015, the Public Utilities Commission of Nevada authorized changes to net metering rates for residential and small commercial solar installations. These changes have caused much disruption within Nevada’s residential rooftop solar industry, but have not impacted Black Rock Solar, whose projects generally fall under the category of “medium commercial,” said BRS executive director Patrick McCully.

This doesn’t mean that all has been smooth sailing for the non-profit, which provides low-cost or no-cost solar installations for schools, tribes and other non-profit organizations. They used to do this using rebates from NV Energy. “A couple of years ago, the rebates were slashed, so before the net metering change came, we already saw big changes,” McCully said.

As for the future of the solar industry in Nevada? McCully believes that things can only go up from here. “It’ll take some time, but I think things will slowly improve,” he said. “One of the biggest problems they made is that even if political changes are made and we go back to something like the old system, that they’ve made such a dent in confidence in solar in the state that it’ll still take a long time to recover.”