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Reno takes big steps to capitalize on renewable energy

Jason Geddes

In September of 2010, the National Resources Defense Council declared Reno among the 22 Smartest Cities for Energy. Reno joins Austin, Berkeley, Chicago, Portland, San Francisco and Seattle on the list. A major factor in Reno being selected included the results of the City of Reno Energy Efficiency & Renewable Energy Initiative. The initiative is one that could be replicated by any commercial property.

In an effort to reduce its carbon footprint and lower its energy bills, the Reno City Council launched the Initiative under the Council Green Priority. As you may already know, Reno has vast solar, geothermal and wind resources right here in our own backyard. Nevada ranks first in the country in solar resources generating more than 30 watts per person. Nevada is No. 1 in the nation for geothermal energy production per capita, generating over 110 watts per person. Reno is the only sizeable U.S. city that produces enough geothermal energy to meet its entire residential load.

In an effort to take advantage of these local renewable resources, the city tapped leading energy auditing companies to begin the process of “greening” the city’s power supply. These renewable energy technologies will not only improve Reno’s air quality, it will also help to lower non-renewable energy prices, promote local economic development and help define Reno as a great green western city.

The first step was the selection of an energy services company through a competitive bid process. In August of 2008, the city selected APS Energy Services who then began a year-long energy and resource audit that included electricity, natural gas and water use at all city facilities. The audit was completed in August of 2009 and submitted to city staff.

In June of 2009, the City Council approved a series of Phase I projects, and the rest of the projects were approved as Phase II in September of 2009. The projects involve solar photovoltaic systems, wind turbine demonstration programs, solar thermal heating systems, lighting retrofits, control systems, and a variety of HVAC upgrades. For Phase III the City has contracted with Clean Path Renewables of Reno to install and operate nine new solar systems totaling one megawatt that are slated to be completed by November 2011. Phase IV was added when the city received a grant from the Nevada State Office of energy to replace pedestrian signals and lighting at intersections.

Among other projects, the famous Reno Arch was re-lit entirely with energy-efficient LED bulbs, and with energy retrofits City Hall will be able to reduce its energy costs from $4.54 to $2.54 per square foot. The fully funded initiative will save nearly 11 million kilowatt-hours and yield $1,335,403 in savings annually, helping to reduce the city’s burden of debt. You can get more details on projects and their status by following the Around the Arch blog.

The $19,636,378 project was entirely funded with grants and loans. The city received $2,711,500 in ARRA grants and over $2 million in NV Energy rebates. The NV Energy rebates consisted of SolarGenerations, WindGenerations and SureBet incentives that are available to public and private entities. The balance of the project was financed through a combination of low interest loans. The balance on the loans is paid off through guaranteed energy savings that normally would have gone to pay the power bills.

Jason Geddes is environmental service administrator for the City of Reno.