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Funding hitch leaves Sparks’ solar energy plan in limbo

RENO — Sparks city officials are appealing to the Nevada Public Utilities Commission after funding complications have left the city’s renewable energy development plans in limbo.

Sparks had plans for a series of solar energy projects on numerous city facilities, including the police department, Golden Eagle Regional Park and a city recreation gym.

City officials were banking on funding the projects through rebates from Nevada Energy, but the applications — submitted April 21 — were not approved.

City Engineer Pete Etchart said the city needs rebates to help meet requirements for a renewable energy program tied to federal stimulus funds. The city could lose up to $500,000 in federal funds. A deadline for the federal program is next week, Etchart said.

City officials also planned to pay for new projects with rebates collected on previous solar projects.

“Renewable energy generation and energy conservation are two of our main focuses in working toward creating a sustainable city,” Mayor Geno Martini wrote in a letter to PUC Commissioner Rebecca Wagner. “With the un­precedented economic challenges the city has faced and the need to fund basic city services, our sustainability program is completely dependent upon the grant and rebate funding.”

Sparks officials said they thought the applications would be handled on a first-come, first-served basis statewide.

But Nevada Energy spokesman John Owens said that wasn’t the only criteria and that the utility stands by its decision-making process. Owens said interest in rebates for public buildings exceeded the amount of kilowatts available.

“The real issue here is not any issue between us and Sparks. It’s simply that we had roughly 11,000 (kilowatts) in applications for public building rebates, and we had available to us … roughly 800 (kilowatts),” Owens said.

Owens said he expects Sparks to be awarded future rebate funding.

Both the company and Sparks officials now want the utility board to expand the rebate program. Sparks officials also said they plan to file an extension with the federal Energy Department.

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