Power in numbers

GreenPower supports renewable energy and Nevada schools

When you buy a plane ticket or even a concert ticket these days, you’re often asked if you’d like to donate to some renewable energy project to make up for the greenhouse gas emissions your travel puts into the air. Those projects are often in Africa, India or elsewhere on the globe. Not that there’s anything wrong with that. But there’s at least one way to take a similar step in Nevada.

While the GreenPower Program, administered by Sierra Pacific Power, Nevada Power and Desert Research Institute, doesn’t tout itself as a carbon offsetting program, it is a way consumers of electricity in Nevada can help fund renewable energy and education here.

Earth Day-goers have the option of contributing to the program to offset their trip to Idlewild Park when they buy a bike raffle ticket. But anyone who receives a Sierra Pacific power bill has the option any time of donating—$3, $10, $500, whatever—to the GreenPower Program, which uses it to fund wind and solar power projects at schools in the state.

For Mary Levy, principal at Mountain View Montessori School, becoming a GreenPower school was a natural fit. “Green” has been part of the school’s philosophy since it opened nearly 40 years ago, when green was just another color. Composting lunch scraps, growing organic gardens in a greenhouse and recycling had been integrated into the school day before Mountain View decided to install its solar and wind system last September.

“It’s very in tune with what we teach the children from ages 3 all the way through—care of the Earth,” says Levy. “They know it generates power and that it’s an opportunity for their future. The older ages will study wind power and alternative resources and the chemistry and physical sciences and have a greater understanding of opportunities for alternative energy for their world when they become adults.”

There are currently 16 schools statewide in the GreenPower program, producing a total of roughly 150 kilowatt (the Gerlach school’s system, installed largely through Burning Man-supported Black Rock Solar, produces about 90 kw on its own). Each system costs about $50-to-$60,000 to install. Roughly 400 ratepayers in Nevada donate about $10-$15,000 a year, and the program receives about $60,000 more through sponsors and other donations.

“This is something the average person can do if they want to help a little bit and don’t want to spend $20-, $30- or $50,000 for a solar system on their house,” says Roger Jacobson of Desert Research Institute.

Most of the power systems are less than 5 kw, which is a fraction of the schools’ power needs, but “it’s a start,” says Jacobson. “It was mostly meant to go on schools so it’d be there to produce some power, but the biggest thing we’re hoping for is educating the next generation because they’re our future—and a lot of us really believe that.”

That’s why the program is placing more emphasis this year on developing lesson plans, training and materials for teachers to incorporate the solar and wind systems on their roofs into subjects such as math, science and language.

“Just putting it up doesn’t cut it,” says Jacobson.

There’re a couple ways to sign up. You won’t find any box to check on your bill itself. But you can go to http://nevadapower.com/comenv/env/greenpower/join/ and fill out the form online or download it and mail it in. A minimum six-month contribution is required; after that, you can go month-to-month and cancel your donation at any time by calling (775) 834-4444.