Gerlach schools go solar

The last ember has just barely burned away from this year’s Burning Man, during which, despite all the pyrotechnics, the environment was the event’s theme. Now, Burning Man, through the Black Rock Solar project, is spreading the green around in Gerlach, the community that both graciously and begrudgingly hosts them each year.

A 90-kilowatt photovoltaic solar power system has been installed on the Gerlach school campus, which serves 83 students in grades K-12. It’s expected to generate up to 162,000 kilowatt hours of electricity each year for the next 25 years, saving more than $480,000 in energy costs.

“Burning Man runs on a gift economy,” said Tom Price of Black Rock Solar, the Burning Man-supported nonprofit that provided the engineering and labor for the system. “This is what happens when Burning Man meets the real world.”

The Washoe County School District said the $20,000 annual savings directly will benefit the students and faculty at Gerlach. The system, which was installed at no cost to the school district, will provide nearly all of the energy needed on campus, according to Bruce Deetken, energy manager for the school district. The system will also make its way into students’ science curriculum, providing a basis to talk about global warming and climate change.

Partially offsetting the costs was a $450,000 rebate from SolarGenerations, a program administered through Sierra Pacific Power and Nevada Power Company. Equipment came from MMA Renewable Ventures. Black Rock Solar intends to install several other solar projects in Northern Nevada with the SolarGenerations rebate program.

“Communities used to get together and have barn-raisings,” said Price. “This is like a modern-day barn-raising, but we’re not building a barn—we’re building a solar plant.”