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STILLWATER NWR: Greening the Nevada Desert, Refuge Shop Goes Solar
California-Nevada Offices , July 16, 2010
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Stillwater NWR maintenance supervisor Bob Henderson explains the shop's solar energy inverter controls. Henderson planned and installed the 15kw system with support and funding from the refuge and Pacific Southwest Regional Office. (USFWS photo by Susan Sawyer)
Stillwater NWR maintenance supervisor Bob Henderson explains the shop's solar energy inverter controls. Henderson planned and installed the 15kw system with support and funding from the refuge and Pacific Southwest Regional Office. (USFWS photo by Susan Sawyer) - Photo Credit: n/a
Photo of the view from the Stillwater NWR shop roof showing the 72-panel solar array installation, taken May 2010. (USFWS photo by Bob Henderson)
Photo of the view from the Stillwater NWR shop roof showing the 72-panel solar array installation, taken May 2010. (USFWS photo by Bob Henderson) - Photo Credit: n/a

by Susan Sawyer, Stillwater NWR

Over the past several years, Stillwater National Wildlife Refuge near Fallon, Nev., has made several steps towards a "greener" way of doing business in the northern Nevada desert. The refuge has instituted practices and made purchases that help reduce its carbon footprint on the fragile desert flora and fauna, conserve fossil fuels, promote cleaner air and save taxpayer resources.

The largest step in this greening process was completed earlier this year with the second half of a 2-phase solar energy system installed at the refuge maintenance shop.  Bob Henderson, Maintenance Supervisor, researched the various options available, and designed a plan for a 15-kilowatt, full grid tie-in photovoltaic system (as opposed to using batteries) that would meet the power needs of the main shop building.  However, initial cost estimates from professional engineers put the project out of reach.  Not one to be phased easily, Henderson gathered his solar facts, and approached refuge Manager Mike Goddard, who gave his full support to the project and authorized station funds to install the first phase of 7.4kw.  This was completed in  2009.

When the Pacific Southwest Regional office learned of the projects' success at a much lower cost than expected, allocated construction funds were approved for the remainder of the panels, which were installed last spring.  The total cost of the finished 15kw system amounted to about half of the original professional engineering estimate.

A major key to the success of this project was choosing a modular system of proven design that could be added to as funding became available, or if power needs increased.  Another cost-saving measure was that Henderson and his staff installed the solar panels, inverters and peripherals themselves, rather than hire an outside contractor.  The finished system consists of 72 solar panels that save an average of 1.7 lbs of Co2 per kilowatt of power generated.  As of mid-July, nearly 12,000kw of solar energy has been produced, saving almost 20,000 pounds (10 tons) of Co2 from polluting the atmosphere.

With an average of 300 days of sunshine a year at Stillwater refuge, Henderson says, "it was a no-brainer for our shop to run off solar.  Most stations in this region (8), except for those in the extreme northwest, could use solar power in some form;  it just makes sense."  Currently, the system produces about 100kw of free power daily, enough to provide for the shop's 4-day work week.  Excess power produced during the three off-days ties into the main power grid for distribution to Fallon area residents.  Not only does the Stillwater NWR shop reduce their carbon impact on the refuge's desert dwellers, they benefit their human neighbors as well.


Contact Info: SUSAN SAWYER, 775-423-5128, ext. 228, susan_sawyer@fws.gov



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