How Burning Man Spawned a Solar Gold Rush

Nationswell has a great story on Black Rock Solar:

At the end of Nevada’s annual arts festival in 2007, a small group of volunteers donated a solar power array to a local school. Since then, they’ve built more than 70 installations and changed state law in the process.

When the nonprofit Food Bank of Northern Nevada scraped together enough donations to expand to a brand-new 61,000-square-foot facility in McCarran, Nev., in 2008, organizers hoped to power the place with the state’s omnipotent rays.

BlackRockSolar_FoodBankofNorthernNV_JessicaReeder-10-680x499It was a pipe dream, though. The Food Bank, a distribution and outreach center, didn’t have enough funding left over to pay for a solar project, even one that would eventually pay for itself, as such installations can over time. And even if they could get a rebate from the state utility to help pay for the project, Nevada law at the time capped those incentives to solar installations smaller than 30 kilowatts — not nearly enough to make sense for a facility as large as the food bank. That’s when Black Rock Solar stepped in. The Reno-based nonprofit, spawned at the Burning Man arts festival in 2007, provides low-cost energy to underserved communities. Black Rock put relentless pressure on the state’s Public Utility Commission to remove the cap, according to Food Bank’s president and CEO, Cherie Jamason. Their efforts paid off, and when the agency flipped on the lights a few months later, the juice came from a 150-watt solar array on the roof, installed by the very group that had started out as a bunch of “burners.”

That small cadre of volunteers — with backgrounds in solar energy and construction —discovered that they could position themselves as the ideal middlemen between NV Energy, the state-run utility handing out incentives for solar installations, and Nevada groups that didn’t know money existed or how to take advantage of it.

solar array _ 350Now, seven years later, Black Rock Solar has 28 employees and has built 72 projects worth roughly $20 million, pushing more than 4 megawatts onto the grid, enough to power 4,000 homes. About a third of the projects have gone to Indian tribes, says Patrick McCully, Price’s successor and Black Rock’s executive director. The rest went to schools, community colleges, churches, food banks, homeless shelters and even some government buildings such as wastewater treatment plants. Black Rock Solar — funded entirely by utility rebates, grants and donations — is now the nation’s second-largest nonprofit installer of solar arrays.


It’s great to see Black Rock Solar out there doing so much good in the world. We hope the new non-profit Burning Man Project can learn from their example, and leave a lasting trace in the community.


I-80 Alert! Sinkhole in Truckee Forces Lane Closures

by Whatsblem the Pro

Expect delays on I-80 through Truckee - PHOTO: Samuel Gonzalez/KCRA

Expect delays on I-80 through Truckee – PHOTO: Samuel Gonzalez/KCRA

Caltrans reports that a sinkhole has developed in the center median on Interstate 80 in the Truckee area, near Donner Pass Road.

The sinkhole, which was first reported this morning, is said to be approximately three feet wide and has forced the closure of two lanes, affecting both eastbound and westbound traffic. Travelers should expect delays, as the number one lanes in both directions are closed until further notice.

Workers have been on the scene for much of the day, assessing the severity of the sinkhole and planning for repair work. The cause of the sinkhole is not yet known, but the problem became evident during paving undertaken by Caltrans early this morning.

Other potential hazards on the road to Burning Man include numerous large fires, nearly twenty miles of washed-out shoulder on NV-447, and a reported massive increase in law enforcement activity both on the highways and on the playa. The Pyramid Lake Paiute tribe’s reservation, for instance, includes a stretch of highway with a lower-than-usual speed limit; the tribe is said to be enforcing that limit strictly, using at least two brand-new pursuit vehicles that some speculate were purchased specifically for this year’s Burning Man season.

With heavy construction on alternate routes to the Black Rock Desert, there may simply be no getting around the various closures, hazardous road conditions, fires, speed traps, and law enforcement shakedowns. Be careful out there; make sure your vehicle is road-legal, your license is in order, and your knowledge of your rights and how to stand up for them are brushed-up. We want to see you on the playa with a smile on your face, not standing by the side of the road with all your belongings being tossed by uniformed thugs with dogs. . . or upside-down and on fire in a ditch.

Highway Update!

by Whatsblem the Pro

NV State Route 447 in June of this year -- PHOTO: Ralph Minnitte

NV State Route 447 in June of this year — PHOTO: Ralph Minnitte

A lot of burners have been worried about the condition of Nevada State Route 447 since the recent heavy rains washed out a portion of the road. NV 447 is the main route in and out of Black Rock, and any really significant construction delays could cause some serious problems for tens of thousands of people trying to get to the playa.

A recent edition of Jack Rabbit Speaks advised burners to exercise more than usual caution when driving out to the playa, stating that 447 had “taken a beating” and speculating that road repair work could possibly create a twenty-mile bottleneck of single-lane traffic. “Allow extra time for your journey,” advised the JRS.

Be just, and fear not.

I personally drove 447 just a few days ago; at this point, what remains evident of the damage is nearly all to the highway’s shoulders along the stretch where the flooding was at its worst. It’s certainly true that construction work on the highway would be liable to cause delays even more serious than the actual damage to the road, but you can put the JRS down now and take a deep breath: in a thoughtful and canny maneuver that shows how well-regarded Burning Man actually is by local State and County authorities, the Nevada Department of Transportation (NDOT) has announced that they will cease all road work for a three-week period, to accommodate traffic going in and out of Black Rock City.

“We’re so aware of Burning Man that we don’t do any major road work during the event,” said Scott Magruder, an NDOT spokesman. Magruder added that NDOT is currently doing all they can to repair the road as well as possible before ceasing operations entirely for the duration of the festival.

“Just obey the speed limit,” Magruder advised. “You’re going to make it there. Of course, we can’t predict if there will be another severe water event.”

With 447’s shoulders in a marginal state, further flooding – which happily is not expected – could wash the damaged section out entirely. Always check the weather before you head out to any wilderness, and plan accordingly. . . even if 60,000 of your best friends will be there waiting for you.

Naturally, NDOT will have people patrolling the road to make sure everything flows smoothly. So will the Nevada Highway Patrol and various other law enforcement agencies, so make sure your vehicle is legit, and keep your big lead foot the hell out of the gas out there. I know it’s a temptation to go screaming balls-out down the road toward the best time you’ll ever have, but driving the speed limit will get you there just fine, while speeding might get you pulled over and potentially screwed right in the vacation-hole. . . or worse. Drive safely, arrive safely, and save the mayhem and madness for the playa.