In 2019, Audubon Arkansas held its first grassroots lobby day, which helped get the Solar Access Act passed. Since that bill was signed into law, Audubon Arkansas staff are using the win to fuel renewable energy innovation at the Little Rock Audubon Center.
Prior to the Solar Access Act, the state of Arkansas banned solar leasing and power purchase arrangements, also known as third party financing. What did this mean for consumers and businesses that wanted to choose how to finance their renewable generation? Without third party financing, willing solar adopters like nonprofits, county and city governments, and schools were kept out of the market. With the passage of the Solar Access Act, in addition to creating more local jobs and removing regulatory barriers, the legislation now clears the way for nonprofits to use third-party solar service agreements and procure economic solar power.
Audubon Arkansas will be the first 100 percent renewable powered nonprofit in the state. Audubon will work with Scenic Hill Solar to install a solar facility and “Solar Learning Lab” at the Little Rock Audubon Center. The 35-kilowatt solar power plant will meet all of the center’s electric demand, while the lab will provide educational opportunities on clean energy and Audubon’s latest climate report, Survival By Degrees. Little Rock Audubon Center’s K–12 school curriculums will incorporate new interactive features about renewable energy to teach kids about solar power technology and how it affects birds and people.
According to Uta Meyer, center manager at the Little Rock Audubon Center, over the next 30 years the solar power plant is expected to reduce carbon emissions by the equivalent of removing 2.7 million passenger car miles from the highway.
“The solar facility and Solar Learning Lab will help ensure that we’re part of the solution in everything we do,” says Meyer. “We worked tirelessly to change the law so that we can continue to protect birds, educate visitors about the benefits of clean energy on wildlife and people, and showcase that this type of project is doable and replicable.”
Construction of project started a few weeks ago. Though Audubon’s plans to limit the spread of coronavirus (COVID-19) has led to temporary closures to all nature centers, Meyer says the project’s timeline still shows the solar facility will be completed by this summer.