Running on sunshine: Zoo receives solar panels

The Cameron Park Zoo received a donation from the Sun Club that provided for the installation of two solar panels. The Sun Club collects donations from Green Mountain Energy Co., a utilities provider. The panels are located on the roofs of two zoo buildings: the Brazos at Night building, which houses nocturnal animals, and a new pavilion that was built this summer.
Matthew McCarroll | Lariat Photographer

By Jordan Hearne

Two solar array systems have been installed at the Cameron Park Zoo as the result of a $140,000 donation by the Sun Club, a sub-group of Green Mountain Energy Co.

Tony Napolillo, the club’s manager, said the Sun Club is a voluntary program in which Green Mountain Energy Co. customers can donate $5 a month from their electricity bill to promote solar energy use in Texas.

Solar energy is pollution-free, unlike energy created from burning products like coal, which produces the greenhouse gas carbon dioxide. In addition, solar power is renewable and inexhaustible, eliminating the need to dig for fossil fuels.

Napolillo said the money donated by Sun Club members is used to purchase solar energy panels for nonprofit organizations like the Dallas Children’s Museum.

“Some of the past recipients have been colleges and elementary schools to teach the next generation about solar power,” Napolillo said.

In 2010, Cameron Park Zoo applied to be a recipient of Sun Club donations. The zoo was notified in August that it would receive two solar panel systems. Installation of the panels began Oct. 4.

“We see them as partners in the conservation world, especially in saving endangered species and habitats, and we were confident that customers would be proud to support the zoo,” Napolillo said.

The Sun Club grant application was an effort to receive money equal to a previously received grant from Texas Parks and Wildlife for the zoo’s conservation efforts, said Cindy Michaelis, director of development at Cameron Park Zoo.

“We are involved in the conservation of wild spaces and of resources, and we have always conserved water and energy here at the zoo by using untreated rainwater whenever possible and being green in all our recycling,” Michaelis said.

The installation was completed Oct. 14. One panel is located on a new pavilion built over the summer. The other is located on the Brazos at Night building that houses indigenous nocturnal animals.

Napolillo said the panels are environmentally friendly, harnessing natural power from sunlight.

They are also cost effective: an in-house source of energy.

“It’s also saving the zoo money,” Napolillo said. “Whatever money they are not putting into electricity, they can put back into conservation programs.”

Green Mountain Energy Co. is a utilities provider dedicated to producing environmentally friendly energy across Texas.

Napolillo said the electricity the company produces is “100 percent pollution-free” and generated by wind power.

This commitment to green energy led to the development of the Sun Club in 2002 and since then, 31 solar energy systems, meant to produce electricity or heat water, have been donated to nonprofit organizations around the state.

Another recipient of Sun Club donations, the Greater Waco Chamber of Commerce building, received its panels in May 2008.

Lesly Rascoe, vice president of communications for the Chamber, said the Chamber of Commerce building is the first in Waco built from the ground up to receive a Leadership in Energy and Environmental Design (LEED) certification.

This certification is achieved by meeting a list of requirements developed and administered by the U.S. Green Building Council to prove that a building was built in an environmentally friendly fashion.

Napolillo said it was the Chamber’s work toward becoming LEED certified during its construction that made the building a recipient of the Sun Club donation.

Rascoe said the solar panels offset the Chamber of Commerce’s energy use by 6 percent.

The Chamber subscribes to the Green Mountain Energy Co. on a 100 percent renewable plan.

“We were very appreciative of the generosity that allowed us to have those solar panels,” Rascoe said. “There aren’t many in Waco, but we’re noticing that there seems to be more interest in that subject.”

Michaelis hopes this recent gift from the Sun Club will open new doors to conservation efforts at the Cameron Park Zoo.

“Off of that donation, we have applied for a grant from Encore, who does local power, to match the $140,000 with $100,000,” Michaelis said. “If we get that, we can get another solar panel for the staff commissary, where the staff lockers are located and the meals for the animals are prepared.”