BCN Staff – March 13, 2021 — Little Rock’s Granite Mountain community is getting a taste of solar energy after the local chapter of the National Audubon Society on Tuesday announced the state’s first 100% renewable energy-powered nonprofit organization.
The Little Rock Audubon Center (LRAC) is now home to a 35-kilowatt solar power plant, which was constructed by Scenic Hill Solar, led by former Arkansas Lt. Gov. Bill Halter, and designed to meet the center’s total electricity demand. The center also will feature a Solar Learning Lab to provide community education opportunities on solar power technology.
At the ribbon-cutting ceremony, local and state Audubon officials and Scenic Hill Solar leaders were joined by state lawmakers Sen. Linda Chesterfield and Rep. Denise Ennett, both Democrats whose districts include the center’s Granite Mountain community.
“This is great for the community,” said Ennett, a first-term legislator who won a special election in September 2019 to fill the District 36 seat vacated by former Rep. Charles Blake, who resigned nearly years ago to become Little Rock Mayor Frank Scott Jr.’s chief of staff.
According to LRAC officials, the new Granite Mountain solar power plant will reduce carbon emissions over the next 30 years by the equivalent of removing 2.7 million passenger car miles from the highway. Additionally, LRAC is developing Solar Learning Lab from nearly $10,000 in annual utility savings from the project. That lab will include the ground mounted solar facility tied to the center’s electric meter, an indoor interactive educational exhibit on solar technology, and two tracks of educational curriculum – geared towards K-12 students and nonprofit leaders.
“In order to protect the birds that we love and the places that they need to survive, it is important that we do everything we can as an organization to reduce our own carbon emissions,” said Uta Meyer, LRAC Manager. “This solar project not only gives us an opportunity to educate the community on the benefits of renewable energy for both people and wildlife, but it also helps ensure we’re part of the solution in everything we do.”
Audubon is fueling the LRAC’s renewable energy innovations after leading a coalition to enact the Solar Access Act of 2019 (Act 464). The widely supported policy measure allows nonprofits and other entities to use third-party solar service agreements to monetize federal clean energy tax incentives, thus providing the opportunity for nonprofits to procure economic solar power.
“The Solar Access Act established a gold standard for Arkansas solar energy by opening up the state’s market and providing more choices for consumers,” said Gary Moody, local and state climate director for the National Audubon Society. “Enabling nonprofit groups like Audubon to deploy clean energy solutions helps position Arkansas as a leader in solar energy.”
Senator Dave Wallace (R-District 22), lead sponsor of the Solar Access Act, said, “Audubon has been a strong advocate for smart solar policy in Arkansas, and I am pleased to see them now utilize the benefits of Act 464. We have seen tremendous economic growth as consumers drive the Arkansas solar market.”
Halter, whose North Little Rock company has completed over 15 solar energy projects in Arkansas and at least another dozen renewable energy developments in the pipeline, said the 2019 law has spurred more than $250 million in economic development and job growth over the past 24 months.
“Scenic Hill Solar has been delighted to work with Audubon on this solar power and educational project,” said. “The solar power plant is owned and operated by Scenic Hill Solar and provides electricity to the Little Rock Audubon Center. As the first nonprofit organization in Arkansas to utilize 100 percent solar electricity, Audubon is simultaneously building on its rich history of environmental stewardship and conserving scarce budget resources. We are proud to partner with this forward-thinking organization.”
The LRAC sits on 450 acres in Granite Mountain and serves as an environmental education field trip destination for K-12 students. The LRAC also engages the public in conservation priorities by showcasing Audubon’s work on bird-friendly communities and grassland restoration while providing visitors with engaging options for conservation action.
Originally estimated to cost more $80,000 to complete, LRAC’s solar project is supported by a 3M Ecogrant and the National Audubon Society’s Maggie Walker Incentive Fund.
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