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Cincinnati Zoo Completes 6,400 Panel Solar Canopy

The Cincinnati Zoo has finished installing a four-acre solar canopy that it calls the largest publicly accessible urban solar project in the country.

The zoo has installed 6,400 solar panels, totaling 1.56 MW, over its concrete parking lot. The $11 million array will provide about 20 percent of the zoo’s energy needs, generating enough electricity to power 200 homes a year, and will provide shade for nearly 800 of the 1,000 parking spots available at the zoo’s main entrance.

The zoo said the panels will save it millions of dollars off of its electric bills.

“When we talk about the unknown future of energy policy and energy rates, we can know that 20 percent of our load is locked in and accounted for,” senior director of facilities, planning and sustainability Mark Fisher (pictured) said.

The zoo’s annual electric bill is about $700,000, Cincinnati.com reports.

Melink Corporation developed the installation and will own and operate the panels. The project was supported by PNC Bank, the local non-profit Uptown Consortium, National Development Council and the zoo’s electric utility, FirstEnergy, with funds from federal renewable energy and economic development tax credits.

Melink will sell the electricity for about eight cents a kWh, about what the zoo currently pays FirstEnergy, but the price will be locked in for seven years, Cincinnati.com said.

“Nowhere 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,” Fisher added. “The education potential of this advanced energy project is off the charts.”

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11 thoughts on “Cincinnati Zoo Completes 6,400 Panel Solar Canopy

  1. Assuming all the numbers in the article are accurate, 20% of the annual $700,000 bill comes to $140,000. Not taking into account interest charged on debt, the $11,000,000 cost of the arrays will not be re-couped for 78.5 years.

    This does not sound like a good deal.

  2. @Mike van Lammeren

    Its a power purchase agreement. So it actually is a good deal.

    Did you even bother reading the whole article?

    “Melink will sell the electricity for about eight cents a kWh, about what the zoo currently pays FirstEnergy, but the price will be locked in for seven years, Cincinnati.com said.”

  3. Despite the comments of apc (No ad hominem attacks, please) I agree with MvL, the numbers quoted in the article don’t seem to add up. If the zoo will “save millions of dollars” solely by keeping the price of 20% of its electricity at 2011 prices for 7 years i.e. holding $140,000 at $140,000 for 7 years, then electricity prices would need to rise a lot to save the zoo “millions of dollars”!!
    If a 1560 kW system only provides 20% of the zoo’s electricity, for which it pays $700,000 at $0.08 per kWh (i.e. 8,750,000 kWh/yr) then it provides 1,750,000 kWh/yr. Assuming 8736 hr/yr, 50% daylight, then a 1,560 kW system would only provide its maximum rating for about 25% of daylight hours if it provided 1,750,000 kWhr/yr.
    The maths don’t sound great on the quoted numbers.

  4. I would love to see an urban CSP project on a similar scale. Heliostats distributed across an urban environment linked to a central tower, possibly in a campus setting. CSP projects are generally more cost effective than PV, so why not apply them to urban settings?

    Don’t get me wrong, I love PV and what the zoo did here, but the ROI doesn’t seem attractive enough to get many parking lots covered and producing power.

  5. As an old Cincy Grad I’m happy to see this sort of thing happening there. I always loved the zoo and didn’t live far from it.

  6. You all should do some more research before just crunching numbers (see the quote below), and the idea isn’t that they are saving money, its the awareness that is being raised by educating people on green-building and energy.

    “Financing was the biggest hurdle to making the project work. And in the end, it isn’t costing the zoo a penny.

    Financial details aren’t disclosed. But PNC Bank, which has built a national reputation financing green energy projects, agreed to finance the project for Melink with the help of federal renewable energy and low-income economic development tax credits.” (http://communitypress.cincinnati.com/article/AB/20110325/BIZ01/103260329/Zoo-goes-solar-big-green-test)

  7. The final payback is much less when you figure in the scope and scale of incentives available. Here’s the breakdown:

    Total CAPEX: $11,000,000
    30% Federal Cash Grant: $3,300,000
    100% Bonus Depreciation Tax Shield (assuming 35% tax rate): $3,272,500
    Average SREC Price (conservative): $200/MWh or $.20 per kWh
    The federal incentives knock the capex down to $4,427,500, which is approximately 60% of the project’s original cost.

    This gives a breakeven of 31 years if you exclude SRECs. However, if you include SRECs, the price per kWh jumps up to $.28 ($.20 SREC value plus electricity value $.08), which is $490,000 per year at the system’s stated production level. The payback then becomes just over 9 years.

    Of course this excludes interest payments and taxes on SREC income, but this gives a quick back-of-the envelope view.

  8. Don’t forget to add the value of an 800-car carport. What would that cost without the solar panels, a couple of million? Think how much cooler your car will be when you go to the zoo on a hot day.

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