Reno Walks The Talk as a Leader in Renewable Energy

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Government leadership takes many forms. As we’ve seen in the press, traditional government is often circuitous, with drawn out politically motivated and media focused debates about what we should do about our current economic malaise and the role energy policy should play.

More of a bureaucratic “do as I say” approach with little, or at least slower results, and with budget constraints always a caveat. Then there’s the more linear leadership model of getting out front, saying follow me and “do as I do.” This is exactly what Mayor Bob Cashell and the City Council have done for Reno by creating the Energy Efficiency and Renewable Energy Initiative – a pathway for job creation. Early indications are this battle is well waged and now with the newly-extended federal energy tax legislation, this Reno project could become a model across the region.

Reno’s energy project was presented at the NCET Entrepreneurial Expo this fall by Jason G eddes PhD, Environment Services Administrator for the City of Reno, acting under authority of the City Council and the Mayor. Reno’s objectives for this $19M project are to create jobs while also a) reducing the environmental impact of the city, b) providing leadership (by example) in the community and c) encouraging both residents and businesses to invest and join in this effort. Here are the top lines of what the project, launched in 2008, has achieved so far:

1 Total investment for all phases of the project was $19.1M

2 $1.1M in guaranteed annual cost savings, for an approximate 20 year ROI

3 With energy savings of 9.0M kWh and 225K Therms, GHG reductions include 7300 tons of Carbon Dioxide, plus 7.9M gallons of water saved per year.

4 273 jobs created or retained, which translates to well over $10M in regional economic impact in salaries and wages -- annually.

To accomplish these goals, the project deployed a combination of energy efficiency measures, PV solar panels and wind turbines. About one-third of the funding ($6.4M) went directly to City Hall that was seriously energy out-dated and included these large-scale changes:

Lighting systems

Chiller/tower replacement

Boiler plant replacement

Boiler plant replacement

Control systems

Instant-on hot water

Resulting in reducing electricity cost per square foot from $4.54 to $2.54.

At other municipal facilities in Reno, a diversity of energy conservation and green energy generation systems were installed, including:

Centralized energy management system

PV rooftop arrays (Events Center, Corporate Yard)

Wind turbines (City Hall, Downtown Parking Gallery, Mira Loma)

Outdoor lighting upgrades

Parks lighting upgrades

Water system upgrades

Swimming pool covers, boiler & water system improvements

Solar thermal hot water

While impressive, you are probably wondering -- as I did -- how was a $19M investment of this magnitude, with a 15 year payback, remotely possible in Reno‘s economic climate?   After all, Nevada has one of the worst unemployment, housing and educational funding situations in the country. If Dr. Geddes did not have his deep environmental and renewable energy background and the support of both the mayor and city council, this project may not have happened. Here’s an outline of how the project was financed.

Tapping Grants and Rebates for $4.2M:

$2.1M Energy Efficiency Conservation Block Grants (federal)

$1.6M Solar generations (NV Energy)

$264K Surebet (NV Energy)

$156K Wind Generations (NV Energy)

Financing thru local Bonds, totaling $15.5M:

$2.3M Qualified Energy Conservation Bonds (QECBs)

$2.3M Clean & Renewable Energy Bonds (CREBs)

$10.9M Recovery Zone Economic Development Bonds (RZEDs)

To put this project into a larger context, this is not just a one-time renewable energy initiative for Reno. The city annually hosts the Green Summit and 2010 was the third year for the Energy Efficiency and Renewable Energy Initiative. This project is a laudable undertaking for a city – or any government entity – to demonstrate how it can actually save money, reduce its carbon footprint and create jobs. What’s not clear is how effective this massive project has been in motivating other government entities, businesses or homeowners to likewise invest in energy conservation and alternative energy. Here’s what Dr. Geddes says is now happening, “Many entities in the state and throughout the country are looking at Reno and seeing that investing in energy projects can replace failing infrastructure and lower long term energy costs which has even greater benefits in these days of declining budgets.”  This article also appears at my energy column.

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