How Burning Man inspired a solar surge in Nevada
After the 2007 Burning Man, volunteers repurposed a solar array for a local school. That installation led to many, many more.
Wed, Jul 02, 2014 at 11:18 AM
From the tiny houses of Burning Man to its 'Burn Clean' initiative, the Burning Man Festival in the Nevada desert has some significant eco-credentials (though it has a significant carbon footprint too!). But perhaps one of its most important legacies is the birth of Black Rock Solar, a nonprofit providing solar energy installations to organizations in need. NationSwell has a fascinating, inspiring account of how the group got started:
Black Rock Solar was a tiny nonprofit back then, cobbled together by a dozen volunteers after the 2007 “burn,” the weeklong event held in Nevada’s Black Rock Desert where thousands of artists, musicians and creative types gather each August. That year, a solar installation was donated to Burning Man, and the leave-no-trace ethic behind the gathering meant that the volunteers had to find a home for the array once the festival ended. They did — at a local school in Gerlach, Nevada, on the edge of the desert 10 miles from the festival.
That installation was to be the first of many. Armed with fresh experience and knowledge of the state's rebates and incentives, Black Rock started looking for community organizations that might benefit from low cost, sustainable energy. They also pushed Nevada's Public Utility Commission to remove a cap limiting incentives to solar installations smaller than 30 kilowatts, opening the door for larger, more visible installations.
And visibility here is the key. While Black Rock's installations of 4.7MW of solar onto the Nevada grid is no mean feat in and of itself, Black Rock co-founder Tom Price tells NationSwell that the real idea was to be a disruptive force in the broader energy landscape:
“[We wanted people to ask] why is it that the Boys and Girls Club, the home for battered women, this Indian rural health clinic can have solar, but I can’t put it in my home or business?” Price says. “We wanted to change the narrative of the conversation around renewable energy. That’s going to echo throughout the community in ways you can’t imagine.”
The importance of initiatives like Black Rock Solar should not be underestimated.
As solar power gets cheaper and more commonplace, there are legitimate concerns that the neediest communities — those most likely to struggle with paying their energy bills — may be left out of this potential democratization of energy. In fact, opponents of distributed solar power sometimes argue that it leaves the poor paying more than their fair share for grid infrastructure as folks who can afford solar defect from the grid.
But the story of Black Rock Solar, as well as other efforts to create affordable green building and energy solutions, suggests we may be able to have our collective cake and eat it too. We just need to be intentional about making sure that everyone benefits from the coming energy revolution.
Black Rock Solar is supported by public donations. Learn more about them in video below:
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