Ranchos improvement district reaches for the sun

One goal of the Gardnerville Ranchos General Improvement District for 2008 is to power their district office by solar energy, according to district manager Bob Spellberg.

"The district has been approved for the solar generations program administered by Sierra Pacific Power," said Spellberg at the board meeting Jan. 2. "The project is being constructed with the electrical portion well under way. The project should be completed by the end of January."

Sierra Pacific Power started solar generations in 2004 to encourage development of alternative energy. The program offers rebates to homes, small businesses, public buildings and schools that install photovoltaic panels in their facilites, solar cells which convert sunlight into electricity. The rebates help offset the initial costs of construction.

According to Sierra Pacific, customers of solar generations will spend less on energy bills while helping the environment by using a clean, renewable source of power.

It will also help power companies, which, under Nevada law, must produce 20 percent of their power from renewable energy sources by 2015.

The Washoe Tribe of Nevada and California was the first organization in Nevada to participate in solar generation. In 2004, the tribe installed photovoltaic panels on the roof of their environmental protection department building in south Gardnerville. The tribe received approximately $38,000 in rebates to offset the cost of construction, but since then has not received an electricity bill for the building. According to tribal officials, excess energy generated by the panels is sold back to Sierra Pacific for credit.

Spellberg hopes for similar results.

"We now have 96 feet of double-stacked PV," said Spellberg. "I want to create enough electricity to power the district office."

Spellberg said a former trustee tried years ago to find alternative energy for the district's facilites. But Spellberg said at the time there was nothing cost effective. In early 2006, with the approval of the board of trustees, the district applied to Sierra Pacific's solar generations program.

"After it's done, we should get a rebate check for about $50,000," said Spellberg. "About $5 per watt."

He said the rebate will cover roughly 40 percent of the construction costs, but that the panels will generate the 11.2 kilowatts needed to power the district office. Like the Washoe Tribe, Spellberg hopes to sell excess energy back to Sierra Pacific.

"I think it helps set an example," he said. "Others in our community can look at what we did and decide if they want to do it. Residential homes can also apply for the program."

John Hargrove, senior program manager of solar generations, said the program is helping Nevada become a leader in renewable energy.

"Nevada is the No. 1 state per capita in the country for the utilization of solar energy," he said. "We're also No. 1 for geothermal. The state of Nevada is open for business when it comes to renewable energy."

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