Solar man - Page 2

Can Burning Man leave a legacy of renewable energy?
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18, 2007, when a 90-kilowatt solar array — some of which was used to power the eponymous Man at last year's event — was placed in the town of Gerlach, Nev., as a donation to the Washoe County School District.

It will give the school free, clean power for the next 25 years, saving the district about $20,000 annually — money that can surely be put to better use than paying for fossil fuels.

The project was a joint venture between venture capital firm MMA Renewable Ventures (which put up the money), Sierra Pacific Power (which offered a substantial rebate for the project), and the Price-led burners who donated their labor.

"MMA put up the money, and the rebate from the utility paid back almost all of it, with the difference made up by Burning Man and its volunteers," Price said.

Price said 10 volunteers — including Eli Lyon, Matt Deluge, and Richard Scott, who were in Pearlington, Miss., with us — worked eight hours per day for 51 days to do the work that made the project pencil out.

Matt Cheney, CEO of MMA Renewable Ventures and a resident of Potrero Hill, said he approached people he knew at Burning Man a year ago, wanting to help the event's new green goals. "One of the simplest ways to do it was to green up the Man with solar," he said.

Price helped guide the project past the anticorporate sentiments of burners. "A lot of people were afraid that Green Man would spell the end of Burning Man because there was corporate participation," Price said.

Instead, this creative partnership has become a model for the future and a job for Price, who is now executive director of the new nonprofit Black Rock Solar, which aims to replicate the Gerlach project at schools, hospitals, and other public institutions in Nevada and other states.

"We're taking fiscal capital and social capital and combining them in a way that's really never been done before," Price said.

John Hargrove, who runs the rebate program for Sierra Pacific Power, agrees the burners have created an entirely new model.

"They're able to do installations that wouldn't get done otherwise," Hargrove told the Guardian. "Clearly, they are donating a tremendous value to the project. The Burning Man, Black Rock Solar people are very unique. They're not in it to make money."

Yet the model they've created allows capitalists to make money, albeit at lower returns, by tapping into a universal sense of goodwill and a desire to save the planet.

"We call this not-for-profit work. We're operating on metrics where we don't have to make our typical returns," Cheney said, noting that the price points for this project were about 25 percent lower than for a typical big solar project. And he thinks the undeniable public benefits of projects like this will attract more support from powerful players in the public and private sectors.

"It was the right moment in time to do something like this," Cheney said. "It's one of those good ideas that happened at the right time and has taken on a life of its own."

www.blackrocksolar.org

www.burnerswithoutborders.org

Comments, ideas, and submissions for Green City, the Guardian's weekly environmental column, can be sent to news@sfbg.com.