Department of Energy Prize Will Help Make Gerlach Climate-Resilient

by | Aug 1, 2023

Reno, NV (August 1, 2023) – A Washoe County-led team has been chosen by the U.S. Department of Energy as one of 67 winners in the Energizing Rural Communities Prize.

The Prize challenges individuals and organizations to develop partnership plans or innovative financing strategies to help rural or remote communities improve their energy systems and advance clean energy demonstration projects. Team Climate-Resilient Gerlach will receive $100,000 to support the following team to help Gerlach reduce their community-wide greenhouse gas emissions to net-zero* by 2050:

  • Washoe County
  • Gerlach Citizen Advisory Board and General Improvement District
  • Nevada Energy
  • Nevada Clean Energy Fund
  • UNR Department of Civil & Environmental Engineering
  • nZero
  • Burning Man Project

Gerlach has a population of 130 and is roughly 100 miles north of the Reno/Sparks metropolitan area. This is an introductory video the team submitted as part of the Prize application process.

“Washoe County is committed to achieving net-zero greenhouse gas emissions by 2050, both in county operations and community wide,” said Brian Beffort, Washoe County’s Sustainability Manager. “To achieve these reductions, every community in the county will have to find ways to reduce their energy use and find cleaner forms of energy. This prize brings Nevada’s best expertise to address Gerlach’s unique opportunities and challenges in meeting this goal.”

Over the next 10 months, the team will complete the following activities:

  • Conduct an inventory of the energy used by every residential and commercial building in town.
  • Evaluate the potential of renewable energy resources in Gerlach. The town is blessed with abundant wind, sun and geothermal resources.
  • Hold public listening sessions in Gerlach to hear from residents what they want and need for their energy future.
  • Design a system that can combine renewable energy generation and storage to meet the town’s needs in the future, even in the worst weather conditions.
  • Develop a financing plan that will help pay for the technology necessary to meet the goals.

In the summer of 2024, the Team will be eligible to compete for an additional round of funding to help implement the plan.

Here are statements from all Team partners:

“The Gerlach General Improvement District is thrilled to have been selected as a recipient of the Energizing Rural Communities Prize,” said Russell Bierle, Gerlach’s Public Works Supervisor. “Gerlach suffers from frequent, prolonged power outages during extreme weather, both in winter and summer. In the winter, these outages often coincide with road closures that prevent us from finding shelter elsewhere. The energy generation and storage technologies made possible by this grant promise to equip our old west frontier town for the realities of the future to come. As an isolated desert community with an unreliable power supply, we hope this grant will be the first step toward clean, abundant, secure energy. Not just for Gerlach, but for every dusty old town too stubborn to die out.”

“The Civil and Environmental Engineering (CEE) Department at the University of Nevada, Reno is excited to be a part of ‘Team Climate-Resilient Gerlach’ to envision and design a pathway to net-zero carbon emission for Gerlach,” said CEE Research Scientist Laura Haak. “The CEE Department has expertise in sustainable infrastructure including water, wastewater, transportation, and alternative energy technologies. We will help design and develop a resilient and sustainable frontier community in Gerlach, Nevada examining existing infrastructure, local resources, and energy requirements. Our contributions include development of a scalable model for Gerlach that integrates resource availability, energy storage requirements, consumption patterns, and interactions with land, water, and other resources.”

“NV Energy is proud to be a partner in this effort to provide Gerlach with a path to achieve net zero carbon emissions while helping advance Washoe County’s carbon reduction goals,” said Marie Steele, Vice President of Integrated Energy Services at NV Energy. “We look forward to collaborating and innovating with all of our partners to continue moving forward with this project.”

“Innovative energy partnerships like this can unlock significant benefits for Nevada’s rural communities, from energy and climate resilience, to cost savings, to job opportunities,” said Kirsten Stasio, CEO of Nevada Clean Energy Fund. “NCEF is excited to be a part of this collaborative effort to support the community of Gerlach.”

“As Washoe County continues working toward net-zero emissions, this prize represents a remarkable new chapter for Gerlach, as the community looks to better understand its environmental impact and address renewable energy concerns,” said Josh Griffin, Co-Founder and Chief Policy Officer of nZero. “With our real-time, 24/7 carbon management and emissions tracking, nZero is prepared to help Gerlach evaluate its current energy use and achieve long-term climate goals as well as greater reporting transparency with the larger community. Nevada remains a leading state in the fight against climate change, and our work with Gerlach will only help to support its sustainable future.”

“Gerlach has high potential as a demonstration town for renewable energy and sustainable practices,” said Marnee Benson, Burning Man’s Director of Government Affairs. “Burning Man is uniquely equipped to help tap that potential by offering space and expertise, and a world class network of innovators. Together we can find new ways to electrify rural areas in the high desert and beyond.”

“What’s most exciting about this is that the solutions we develop for Gerlach will be applicable elsewhere in Nevada, across the country, and around the world,” said Beffort. “If Gerlach can do this, so can the rest of us.”

To learn more about Team Climate-Resilient Gerlach or any of Washoe County’s sustainability efforts, contact Brian Beffort at

*Net-zero means cutting greenhouse gas emissions to as close to zero as possible, with any remaining emissions re-absorbed from the atmosphere by oceans and forests for example.