Vegas Schools Get State OK for Pilot Renewable Energy Plan

LAS VEGAS (AP) - Southern Nevada's biggest school district has gotten state approval for a pilot program to contract with renewable energy providers to harness the wind and the sun to power six high schools next year.

"These systems may provide over half the power needed for the schools over a year," said Paul Gerner, associate Clark County School District facilities superintendent. "It might run as high as three-quarters of the power needed."

Gerner said using renewable energy could result in savings of up to $200,000 during the first year of the pilot program, which he said would be helpful during a state budget squeeze.

Schools won't pay startup costs or buy or own solar panels or wind turbines. Gerner said ownership risks will remain with the renewable energy companies that partner with the schools.

Schools would pay the companies for the wind or solar energy, but Gerner said the cost is expected to be 10 percent to 15 percent less than what is now paid for electrical power.

Gerner said he was encouraged by early responses from industry groups, but said he won't be able to fully gauge interest in the idea until after the June 5 deadline for renewable energy providers to submit proposals to the district.

A third-party arrangement calls for schools to pay Nevada Power for the power generated by renewable energy providers to circumvent
regulatory barriers.

John Hargrove, program manager for Nevada Power, said renewable
energy providers would not qualify for tax incentives if they are considered utilities.

As another condition, schools cannot become a net exporter of energy over the course of a year. The schools would continue to buy some energy directly from Nevada Power.

Gerner said he thinks renewable energy providers will be attracted by federal tax breaks and the chance to demonstrate systems to green-minded investors and to students.

"If kids can walk outside and see renewable power being generated by a system they can touch ... maybe it's going to provide the little bit of a spark to get some more engaged in why they should learn math or science," Gerner said.

The program hinges on community approval, Gerner said, describing a "neighborhood veto" clause calling for the district to notify and seek approval from the surrounding homeowners before wind turbines are erected. Solar panels on rooftops would not be visible.

The community also could share in the benefits, he said, since excess power will be diverted to the local power grid. Plus, with most high schools closed in the summer, the renewable energy collected at those sites could contribute power during peak demand times in Clark County. Participating schools would get a credit for the excess power produced.

(Copyright 2008 by The Associated Press. All Rights Reserved.)

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