Black Rock Solar Celebrates Five Years & Two Megawatts

[Marnee Benson is the Deputy Director of Black Rock Solar, the solar non-profit spinoff from Black Rock City LLC.]

And then one day in July, under a blazing Nevada sun, the veteran Black Rock Solar crew put the finishing touches on a gorgeous hundred-kilowatt array at the Desert Research Institute in Reno.  Not only would the array provide clean, renewable energy to the internationally-recognized research center for decades to come, it also marked the two millionth watt of solar installed since Black Rock Solar dedicated its first free array in the tiny, remote outpost of Gerlach some five years ago.  An array built by a ragtag team of DPW volunteers working for breakfast at Bruno’s, packs of cigarettes, and a bunk in the town’s dusty trailer park.  Well, that’s the legend anyway…

The 2007 crew on the playa during Burning Man. Photo by Marnee Benson


The Black Rock Solar crew in Gerlach, circa 2007. Photo credit unknown.


100 kW at the Desert Research Institute in Reno. Photo by Paddy McCully

 We’ve come a long way, baby

Now it’s 2012 and Black Rock Solar has one of the most experienced construction crews and professional project development teams in the state.  In the past two months alone the 501(c)(3) non-profit has commissioned six more systems, bringing the grand total to 53 and the number of individual panels installed by hand to 12,313.  Some, like the tiny 2.9 kW off-grid array at Urban Roots Farm, provide a small amount of power where it’s needed most.  Others, like the 200 kW array at Western Nevada College, are keystone systems at statewide institutions of higher education, visible to thousands of students and educators every day, helping to make solar power part of the right now rather than the maybe someday. (more…)

Bringin’ It to Bonnaroo: Let the Music Begin

I thought the Hug Deli sounded kinda dumb actually. When we were talking about it on conference calls during the planning stages of this trip, I thought it sounded lame. But it was going to be just one aspect of our camp, and I was heroically willing to look beyond the obvious unhipness of the so-called “hug deli” in order to appease the unworldly idealists who favored the half-baked concept. But we’re getting ahead of ourselves.

Loki and Austin settin\' up
Loki and Austin settin’ up

The Bring It! crew woke up at Bonnaroo this morning and assembled for the 7:15 meeting to find that Danielle, Blue, Rebecca, DTR, Bash, D.A., Weld Boy, Austin, and Loki had worked on set-up until 2 or 3 am. Camp was looking great! We only had about four hours until the gates opened to the general public, so it was all hands on deck to make sure everything else got done. (more…)

Bringin’ It to Bonnaroo: Stuff is Happening

Notable quotes from the morning meeting:

  • Carmen to Smoke Blower: “Do you have a shirt that is not nudist related sir?”
  • Marian to the group regarding the fruity moonshine in jars from the back of Cowboy Bill’s truck: “I had a church sip yesterday and got buzzed.”
  • Ray Posado to the group: “No one wins with shirt-cocking.”
  • Bumper sticker advice to shirt-cockers: “If shirt, then pants.”
  • How we should behave at Bonnaroo whilst on duty: “Wedding rules apply.
  • Regarding the schedule for today: “If we don’t move the shade structures at least two more times I’ll be really disappointed.”
Beautiful Meghan
Beautiful Meghan

It was a busy day at the Bring It! camp. We got up at dawn and went to breakfast, then met as a group at 7:30. I love the morning meetings when witty repartee is flying around like bullets ricocheting inside a metal building. We made it through with hardly a scratch and volunteered for work crews as the camp layout was finally finalized.


Bringin’ It to Bonnaroo: Gittin’ Ready

Tennessee is definitely different than Nevada.  Cases in point:
• It’s humid.
• All y’all have an accent.
• The landscape is lush and green and flat and far.
• People make the distinction between Wal-Mart and Super Wal-Mart.
• You can get wine and other alcohol but not beer at the liquor stores, and beer but not wine or other alcohol at the grocery stores.

Playground hanging the Bring It! banner

The Bonnaroo Music and Arts Festival takes place in Manchester, Tennessee on a vast grassy flatland near corn crops and ranch houses.  Vendors and infrastructure are everywhere with ENORMOUS stages punctuating the site like scattered skyscrapers in a village of parks and tents.  It’s early in the week, so work crews and volunteers are wildly busy getting ready and golf carts are zipping around like blurry flashes out of the corner of your eye.  You can feel the energy building toward the opening of the gates Thursday morning. (more…)

Bonnaroo, Baby!

Burning Man is headed to the Bonnaroo Music and Arts Festival in Manchester, Tennessee next week to participate in the 7-year old event as Bring It! an amalgamation of Burners Without Borders, Burning Man Regional Network, Black Rock Solar, Burning Man Earth Guardians, and the Black Rock Arts Foundation. The rock-star fusion of outreach organizations and non-profits is aimed at urging Bonnaroo attendees to get involved by bringing their talent, ideas, and resources to the world at large and especially to their own communities.

Our group is 23 strong and we’ll be on site for the duration of the festival talking to people about things like building community, advancing the arts, gifting alternative energy, aiding disaster relief, and greening the planet.  We’ll be asking about their ideas as well and finding out what makes them tick.  There will be 80,000 to 90,000 people at Bonnaroo, and most of them will never make it to Black Rock City, so we’re going to bring Burning Man culture to them.

One of our goals is to expose Bonnaroo attendees to new ideas about radical self-reliance, uncompromising self-expression, immediate participation, and unlimited inclusion.  Whether it’s conservation, adaptation, experimentation, or transformation, individuals have what it takes to Bring It! and we want to inspire them at Bonnaroo to be their badass selves like we’ve all been inspired at Burning Man.

*** June 21st and 22nd 2008 is the worldwide Bring It! Weekend.  Regional groups and individuals around the world will be working in their communities for a day of giving back to an organization or area that could use some TLC. Take the initiative here:

– Marnee Benson

August 31st: Art Appreciation

Crude Awakening figure
Crude Awakening figure

This afternoon I finally rode my bike out to the open playa and looked at some of the art installations. I feel like I’ve missed a lot of the art this year since I haven’t had much time to explore, so it was nice to get out there and just cruise around with my camp mates. We headed toward the oil derrick at Crude Awakening so that Tory and Justin could climb up the stairs to the platform. Unfortunately the site was roped off so the crew could prepare the derrick for tonight’s explosion. I felt lucky to have climbed up there twice yesterday considering the tower was only open for about 36 hours.

The Temple
The Temple

We rode over to David Best and Tim Dawson’s Temple of Forgiveness. From afar, the beautiful Temple is geometric and very sturdy looking, less delicate or intricate than years past. It’s composed of seven large cubes that form four entrance halls and a central altar that opens to the sky. It still features layers of intricately cut wood, and when I approached, one girl was writing a message on the surface. Another person was sitting on one of the benches, bent over with his forehead in his hands, clearly upset. I didn’t feel like sinking in to a deeply reflective mood, so I didn’t stay long.

Tory & Justin at Tasseograph
Tory & Justin at Tasseograph
Big Rig Jig
Big Rig Jig

Then we rode over to Tasseograph, a small temple made entirely of found objects and food packaging, and then on to Big Rig Jig, which is awesome of course. Mike Ross describes the project as ‘a visual metaphor for non-sustainability’ and it totally works. The two oil tankers are bent into a completely impossible position that makes you look at it again and again because your brain is so unfamiliar with the curves and the height and the way one is sticking out of the other. And then there’s the weight. The thing is so f**king heavy. For me, the sculpture itself is weirdly beautiful. At the same time, it’s as if the oil is so powerful, it has warped the tankers, like it has warped us.

For more information about the Honorarium art installations at Burning Man, go here:

Critical Tits
My friend Tory is a superstar. In addition to everything else, (she’s a firefighter, mountain biker, snowboarder, diver, surfer, photographer) she keeps feeding me delicious meals and she made matching green outfits for Kelly (also a firefighter), me (not a firefighter), and her to wear during Critical Tits. The three of us rolled out to the Man base at 4:00 and rode together in the parade.

If you’ve never been, Critical Tits is like Critical Mass, but topless women only, riding their bikes through the city to the delight and appreciation of the mostly male citizenry lining the streets. The stream of girls on bikes stretched out for a mile maybe- we couldn’t see the beginning or end from our vantage point. The half-hour ride ended at a party in deep, deep playa. Acavallo was there, with a really good band onstage and dancers on the horses, and the huge party area was surrounded by booths offering drinks and fresh fruit. It was beautiful outside, so we parked our bikes among the thousands that were there, checked our coordinates against the big landmarks, and went in through the front gate.

Within minutes, the wind kicked up and blew so much dust that my eyeballs got scratched. I had left my goggles on my bike. Such a rookie mistake! I tried waiting it out, but the storm got worse and I couldn’t see. I couldn’t even open my eyes anymore, so Kelly offered to take me back to our bikes and get my goggles. She took my hand and told Tory and Justin we’d be back in a few minutes.

Well, first we lost our bikes. We walked in their direction but couldn’t distinguish their location in the sea of bikes and impenetrable swirl of dust. We kept looking though, knowing in our hearts that we would come across them in the next pile of blown down bikes. Then we lost the party. We could no longer see the mass of people or the big stage or any of the booths or cars. At one point we couldn’t even hear the music. Then we couldn’t tell which music was which. Is it the Critical Tits party or an art car? When we stopped to ask a group of people if they knew where the party was, they pointed in opposite directions. Not a good sign.

We finally made our way back to the party after about 20 minutes, coming in from the opposite side near the stage, and realized we had made a big half-circle looking for our bikes. Next, we lost Tory and Justin. They were nowhere to be found. The storm was actually getting worse, so Kelly took me by the hand again and led us out into the void. We stumbled over bikes and people until we found an art car close by. She left me there and went to find our bikes. She came back a while later empty handed and ventured out again after making sure I was ok. I hadn’t opened my eyes in a long time (weird, try it) and I was sort of disgusted by the guy sitting next to me (way too friendly, drunk, obnoxious) but I was fine. After the second trip, she came back with both bikes and my goggles. I threw on the goggles and yelled hooray just in time to see that the dust storm was fast becoming a storm storm and everyone was making a mad dash from the open playa toward the grid.

We left the Critical Tits area and headed generally toward Center Camp into a fierce wind that knocked us both off our bikes and forced us to push them hard against it. Our progress was pretty slow. Then it started to rain. Then it got cold. And we still couldn’t see. Did I mention that we were wearing booty shorts, pasties, and go-go boots? We decided to change tack and aim for the Deep End- it seemed like a good time to go dancing. I thought a beer would be nice too, and the Paddy Mirage offered a great shelter, so we decided to stop there first if we could find it. We actually emerged from the worst of the storm right at 10:00 and Coral Reef. Nice navigation! We went inside, warmed up, and drank a Guinness. We were a mess- dirty and wet- but everyone was super nice to us, even asking to take our picture.

Double rainbow from the top of an RV
Double rainbow from the top of an RV

On our way out, we stopped by Crane Camp to see our friends Monte and Teresa, and they poured us a Margarita while we chronicled our epic adventure. We left a short time later and, as we drove down the street, someone said something about a rainbow. We stopped and got off our bikes because the scene was spectacular. The storm was clearing and in its wake was a perfect, end-to-end double rainbow. The color spectrum of the bottom one in particular was ridiculous. We hung out at that random spot for ten minutes or so, enjoying the view with everyone else who had stopped at that random spot to enjoy the view.

The stage at the Deep End
The stage at the Deep End

Kelly and I forged on to the Deep End, where we danced the afternoon away. The music was practically perfect. We ran into a bunch of different friends including Ben Long and Atma, and we watched the sun set behind the hills. It was so much fun. The whole afternoon was one of those amazing playa experiences I’ll never forget.

Adopt a Mohawk Night
I went to the Steampunk Treehouse tonight with Kelly and Scott French. The Kinetic Steam Works 1920 Case Traction Engine was there, and so was the one group of similar art vehicles with flame throwers, and so was Space Cowboys. It was such a great scene. We climbed up in the Treehouse and hung out a while, looking out across the Esplanade and listening to the INCREDIBLE train whistle.

Kelly, Scott, and me
Kelly, Scott, and me

At some point Kelly and I ended up at the giant dome at 10:00 & Esplanade, and we met a fantastic guy with amazing eyes and an orange Mohawk (Ok, ok, and a great body). We decided to adopt him for the night. We had a blast. I especially loved his whistle. Loud and metallic and unexpected. Like a marching band whistle. It was the most wonderful sound! I laughed and yelled for more.

The three of us went to a few different places, including the installation I thought was called Burninator X, but this is the one over by 7:30 that has the flame throwers surrounding a platform you stand on right in the middle while the flame throwers go off one by one, in order, all around you. Poof. Poof. Poof. Poof. Poof. Poof. Poof, poof, poof, poof, poof, poof. POOF POOF POOF POOF POOF POOF! It was totally intoxicating. We stayed there awhile, loving the heat and the noise and the light, and the stillness of the crowd on the platform. I hated to leave, but I was rightfully outvoted and our trio moved on.

We ended up at Opulent Temple for the duration, dancing together most of the night. The DJs were really good- I wish I knew who was spinning. (Maybe someone can let me know.) As we left, we walked over to the Cubatron Cone and watched the blinky lights. That was so beautiful. I think it would be beautiful any night, but it was especially beautiful tonight.

I warmed up at the fiery cactus installation in front of 4:45 and rode home at sunrise, another night gone. The Man burns tomorrow.

– Wanda Power

August 30th: Towers

View of BRC from the oil derrick
View of BRC from the oil derrick

Sky High, Part I
A big wind storm blew in this afternoon and covered the city in a swirling fog of fine dust. Lots of people ducked for cover, but plenty of us pushed out into the abyss, looking for a good time. I gathered some of my crew at our camp and recommended a bike ride out to Crude Awakening to scale the oil derrick and look at the metal figures. We headed out toward 1:00 in hopes of seeing the city above the storm, and we got lucky. There was no line to climb the derrick, and the 99-foot structure afforded us a spectacular view.

The four of us hung out on top of the tower for a long time, watching the storm move around town, alternately covering one section and then another in swirls of playa dust. The sky above us was incredible, sunny and blue with miles of intermittent clouds stretching out to the horizon. The sunlight bounced around, rebounding off huge domes and then throwing shadows across the low dunes. The wind was blowing the whole time, but I never felt the derrick sway. This thing is solid. I wonder how long it would last on its own. We’ll never know though, because it’s going up in flames tomorrow night.

Gourmet spread
Gourmet spread

Tonight my campmates and I ate a delicious dinner and took showers to get ready for a big night ahead. Our camp seems pretty typical for a non-theme camp. We’ve got three trailers and two or three tents. A shade structure in the middle that consists of a custom-made awning and three parachutes held up with pvc posts and anchored by guy lines tied to rebar stakes topped with impaled stuffed animals. We’ve got tables and chairs and carpets and Astroturf. Ice chests and an inflatable swimming pool. We always have one or two new people, which makes it extra fun because we get to see things through their fresh eyes.


We have a solar shower at our camp, and we use a kiddy pool to collect the gray water. We manage to take very few showers, and we use about a gallon of water when we do. Maybe two if we wash our hair. That’s really different from the amount we tend to use at home where water is free flowing and limitless. Where we don’t have to think about what to do with it when we’re done, because it goes down the drain. Out of sight. Out of mind.

I like that Burning Man reminds us to consider the stuff we usually ignore. You have to think about trash here. You have to deal with it. Does it motivate you to consume less, or do you just take all that shit and stuff it in a dumpster after the event? Does your camp separate glass and cans and plastic from burnable paper? There are recycle centers at all the Albertson’s in Reno now, so hopefully you’ll go there on your way home.

The girls at Ambush
The girls at Ambush

Gate Rocks

My friends and I headed out as a group after dinner, aiming for the Ashram Galactica and points beyond. The Ashram was closed. Suck! We looked for a friend’s bachelor party but were given some bad beta and couldn’t find it. Suck! So, we hung out at Skinny Kitty Camp and drank some different teas and coffee and spirits, listened to a live band near the Smooch Dome, and went over to see a performance by Cirque Berserk at the Red Nose District.

At midnight I met a friend at the sculpture between the round bouncy trees at Center Camp, and we headed out to a raging party at the gate. Things were ramping up because of the imminent closing of the entrance to incoming participants. We climbed up on the tower for a while and celebrated with friends, looking out over the city on one side and out toward Gerlach and Empire on the other. Back on the ground, people were listening to music, tipping over burn barrels, setting off fireworks, dog piling each other, and jumping off structures. Driving around art cars and setting things on fire, eating things and drinking stuff. Yelling at people and taking their clothes off. It was excellent.

I was pick-pocketed by an expert. First he shook my hand and took C Load’s light saber off my utility belt, which I knew, but he made it disappear behind his back, which I couldn’t figure out. Then he hugged me and managed to steal the little ring off the end of my zipper. It’s a tiny metal ring that you use to pull the zipper up or down. It was awesome. I have no idea what else is missing, but I liked that guy right away.

I chatted with Combustible Russ and Steel Toe and DA. Railroad Mike and Sendo and a bunch of the bike club guys. Summer and Alexi. Luckily, there was a set of bleachers right there, so a few of us sat down for a while, laughing our asses off as people jumped around. Panties No Panties had a signpost with an arrow on it, and it made for some high quality exchanges with Bloody Knuckles. I can’t remember what else was flying around and/or breaking, but it was a ton of fun. I want to use the word debaucherous here, but in the self-indulgent lascivious lawless excess revelry sense, not in the vile perverse wanton depravity sense. You know?

View of the eight figures
View of the eight figures

Sky High Part II
We left the gate late and headed into town, stopping briefly at the commissary and one of the nearby camps. Then we met Entropy out at Homouroboros and piled into his art car for a trip to Crude Awakening. There was a long line at the oil derrick, but we took cuts and went straight up. (They told us to!) It was really nice up there. The air was warm and the sky was decorated with a zillion stars. We got a clear view of Black Rock City and the open playa. We bumped into people we knew from DPW and other crews, and hung out for a while with Steve 23 and Juicy at the bottom while they worked on waxing burlap. It was fun saying hi to people as they passed through the line.

After we left Crude Awakening, Entropy dropped us off at Doyle’s truck and we went in search of good music. We stopped at a bunch of different clubs and danced at most of them, but there was no hip-hop or rap to be found. It seems like that’s the case most of the time at Burning Man. I’m either missing the good stuff or it’s not here. Please let me know if you’re going to be playing real hip-hop next year so I can check it out.

We stopped at a friend’s camp and made breakfast just before dawn. People were wandering in from their night out, stopping to say hi and grab a bite to eat. We headed home as the sun came up, ending our night as others began their day. Time is flying.


August 29th: Man II

As of this afternoon the new man, Replacement Man, is nearly finished, awaiting some neon.  The Man Krew built him on site, working round the clock, and he’ll be ready to raise tomorrow.  Access to the Man base since Monday night has been limited to authorized Burning Man personnel.  It’s been fenced off and surrounded by work trucks and heavy equipment.  It’s weird not being able to go to the Man and check out the displays or look back at the city after climbing up on the base, and I haven’t had any chance meetings there in the middle of the night like in years past.  BUT!  Today was awesome…