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School solar project moves forward

Teri Vance
tvance@nevadaappeal.com

Noting opposition from some neighbors Wednesday, city planners approved solar array projects at two Carson City School District sites while postponing the decision on another.

About 20 people attended the planning commission meeting where commissioners decided on special-use permits for photovoltaic structures at Seeliger elementary and Carson and Eagle Valley middle schools.

The structures are part of a district-wide project to construct 195,000 square feet of solar panels at five schools. The nearly $11 million installation cost will be reduced to $975,000 after rebates from the power company, said Tony Turley, finance director for the Carson City School District.

He said a conservative estimate is that the school district would save $400,000 in energy costs annually.

Jim Groth, director for the Nevada State Office of Energy, said other entities throughout the state would “be dying to have the same opportunity.”

“This is an unheard of situation where 85 to 90 percent of the funding will be rebated,” he told the board. “This is a significant gift to the city of Carson and the school district and should be looked at as such.”

In order to claim the rebate, however, the project must be completed by July 20.

Resident Deni French told commissioners the tight deadline meant the district overlooked important elements, like buying U.S.-made products and protecting open space.

“As much as I am for solar energy, this is feeling really rushed,” he said. “There’s just lack of foresight.”

About a half-dozen neighbors close to Seeliger Elementary and Eagle Valley Middle schools also complained of losing the views that drew them to their homes as well as places to recreate.

“It will destroy a wildlife habitat,” said Paul Eastwood of the 6-foot-high panels that will be constructed over 60,000 square feet in the field between his house and Seeliger. “This is one of the most scenic park areas in Carson City. If this is installed it will be a visual nuisance.”

Patrick Pittenger said his two boys have spent countless hours playing hide-n-seek, tag and other games on the trails that link through the sagebrush there.

“Ask any boy in the area ages 8 to 12 and they’ll tell you this is the field,” he said. “This is a tremendous resource to the community, and there is a cost to this solar array.”

Planners recognized the cost, but voted unanimously to approve the project at Seeliger.

“I just feel strongly that Carson City and the country needs more of these kinds of projects,” said Commissioner William Vance. “I think we all need to make some sacrifices. It sends a wonderful message to students.”

While planners liked the idea of installing the structures at Eagle Valley Middle School, they agreed with neighbor Diane Benson that there might be a better location.

Rather than the southwest corner, she suggested they be placed between the school and the track.

Mark Korinek, operations manager for the school district, set up a meeting with her and officials from Hamilton Solar, who will be installing the structure, to analyze the site.

Planning commissioners will review the findings at their next meeting.

With no opposition from neighbors, the plan to erect 30,000 square feet of solar panels atop parking structures at Carson Middle School was easily passed.

There are also plans for the photovoltaic structures at Carson High School and Fritsch Elementary School, however a special-use permit is not required for those.

The 100,000 square feet of structures will be installed in a five-acre lot zoned for agriculture use at the east end of the high school property behind the soccer fields.

Fritsch’s solar panels will be installed on the existing shade structure at the bus drop-off in front of the school.