Black Rock Solar Project takes it one roof at a time
When Tom Price was an environmental reporter, he traveled to the nation of Tuvalu, a string of nine coral islands. The people there have watched the entire country become submerged in water for six hours, with devastating consequences to soil and property. It’s the first nation expected by some scientists to be wiped out due to climate change, and it made a strong impression on Price.
“Climate change will be the single largest crisis we face as a planet in the years ahead,” said Price, executive director of Black Rock Solar. “The question is, what are we going to do about it?”
He wasn’t sure himself until Burning Man 2007, when the theme was Green Man, and Black Rock Solar was born. Solar panels were donated to the event, and when it was over, Burning Man donated them to Gerlach. But what to do with them? That’s where the Burning Man-supported BRS stepped in. Using Nevada’s renewable energy rebates, the nonprofit built a 90 kw array for the school in Gerlach in December 2007, at little to no cost.
The group has since erected $1.8 million worth of solar systems for hospitals, schools, churches and other public buildings. On June 21, they’re holding an event at West Street Market to raise $20,000 to build a solar system for Pershing County School District, which recently laid off six teachers. The system would save the district an estimated $12,000 per year.
BRS is the only large-scale, nonprofit solar installer in the nation. The vast majority of its work is done in Nevada. Recently, the group was instrumental in getting the Nevada Public Utilities Commission to release 6.5 megawatts of expired solar rebates that, for various reasons, weren’t used by those who’d applied for them. People can use them now rather than wait for a new program cycle.
“Burning Man celebrates creating opportunities for people to interact regardless of economic circumstances. It’s an economy based on giving without expectation of return,” said Price. Black Rock Solar was founded with those principles in mind. The group also added some rules: 1)Their trained crew members will only install systems for people who otherwise can’t afford them, thus ensuring they aren’t taking jobs away from for-profit installers, given that BRS laborers work for less. “We have never, will never bid for a job put out for bid,” said Price. The group is currently installing a 50 kw system at the Seventh Day Adventist Church in northwest Reno, which would’ve easily cost a half-million dollars. “There’s no way we could afford this commercially,” said church member Larry Turpen. 2) The people receiving the system have to guarantee that the money saved will benefit the people there rather than go into a general fund. For example, the power bill at Seventh Day is expected to decrease from $3,000 to $800 a month, with much of those savings headed toward an in-progress educational and community center on the property.
BRS hopes to grow the renewable energy industry by example, change people’s perception of what’s possible, and begin to make an impact on climate change.
“I have literally seen first-hand climate change,” said Price. “If the seas rise one foot in Bangladesh, there’s 100 million people that will need to find a place to live.”