January 19, 2011

Largest Publicly Accessible, Urban, Solar Array in the U.S

The greenest zoo in America will soon generate power from the sun!  This spring, the Cincinnati Zoo & Botanical Garden visitors will be greeted by the largest publicly accessible, urban solar array in the country – a 1.56 megawatt system with 6,400 panels installed on a canopy structure over the Zoo’s Vine Street Parking Lot.  The structure will provide shade for nearly 800 of the 1,000 spots available at the Zoo’s main entrance.  Construction has begun and is slated to be completed by the end of April 2011.

Check out local press in the Cincinnati Enquirer and on the Business Courier’s CincyBizBlog

The solar panels will convert sunlight into clean energy and provide approximately 20% of the Zoo’s energy needs.  (That’s enough to generate electricity to power 200 homes each year, enough energy to power 55,000 energy efficient CFL bulbs for a year, and even enough to power your Wii for 95 million hours.)

Additionally, there will be many days, sunny and cool, when the Zoo will be completely off the grid and sending power back to the utility.

Melink Corporation, the developer, designer, owner and operator of the multi-million dollar project was supported by PNC BankUptown ConsortiumNDC and FirstEnergy Solutions.  Over the life of the project the Zoo will realize millions of dollars in savings in electric bills.

“We believe that the combination of size and public accessibility, makes this solar array the most impactful array of any in the entire country,” said Mark Fisher, Senior Director of Facilities, Planning, and Sustainability at the Cincinnati Zoo.  “No where else has an array of this magnitude been placed in such an urban environment, allowing our visitors, and the general public at large, to be able to see first hand what solar photovoltaic energy is all about.  The education potential of this advanced energy project is off the charts.”

“As the greenest Zoo in America, there is no better place to showcase this technology and to help the public understand that not only is this technology the right thing to do for our energy future, but it makes absolute financial sense as well,” said Thane Maynard, Executive Director of the Cincinnati Zoo.

“Melink is proud to serve as the developer for this high profile solar energy installation,” said Steve Melink, President of Melink Corporation.   “It will help put Cincinnati on the map as a national leader in the adoption and promotion of clean energy.”

As a leader in eco-friendly development and green building practices, PNC Bank and PNC Equipment Finance provided transaction structuring assistance for an equity investment with the purchase of New Markets Tax Credits through partnerships with the Uptown Consortium and NDC, as well as energy financing. “Our interdisciplinary team of experts in tax credit investing and green energy working with others participating in the project, demonstrates what great things our community can achieve through creative public and private partnerships,” said Kay Geiger, President of PNC Bank, Greater Cincinnati and Northern Kentucky.

All the major components of the solar canopy will be manufactured either locally, or in other locations within the United States to help promote economic growth.  In addition, the project will fund 10 scholarships at Cincinnati State Technical & Community College in their Green Workforce Development Program.

The Zoo’s Uptown neighborhood is home to several nationally recognized research institutions and has more than $1 billion in construction projects underway.

“I congratulate the Cincinnati Zoo on their steadfast commitment to conservation. This project is another example of how Uptown Consortium members keep demonstrating that Uptown is where Cincinnati meets the world, and leads the region in progressive and cutting edge initiatives,” said Beth Robinson, President and CEO of the Uptown Consortium.

In an effort to continue to educate the Zoo’s visitors on Going Green, the solar array will also include an educational kiosk near the Zoo’s Go Green Garden that will allow visitors to learn about the performance of the array and benefits of solar energy in general.

Additional local partners investing and/or participating in this project include:  HGC ConstructionProtekPark SolarKLH EngineersB&J ElectricFirstEnergy SolutionsThe Greater Cincinnati Foundation, the Cincinnati Park Board and US Bank.