When the Arizona campus of the Nature Conservancy, a global charitable environmental organization, announced it was going solar, it seemed like a no-brainer. And Arizona is tops in the nation for solar insolation values.
So it was no surprise when the organization “planted” a donation of $130,000 and, through the help of a financial partner, harvested a $542,000 solar photovoltaic (PV) system that – in combination with two existing arrays – will power 93 percent of the facility’s energy.
The deal allowed the partner to take advantage of the tax credits (something a tax-free charitable organization can’t do), and provided the Nature Conservancy with a lease-purchase agreement to create the system yet keep most of the site free for native plantings, according to Cook and Kevin Koch of Technicians for Sustainability, LLC, a Tucson-based sustainable energy and water solutions company.
But it isn’t just about sustainable energy at the Nature Conservancy. The parking lot not only harbors the 4,200-square-foot PV array, but by the end of the year the rain that falls on the driveway and parking lot will be filtered into a modular, 30,000-gallon “mega-cistern” buried beneath the surface.
The system was provided via a grant from the U.S. Bureau of Reclamation, under an umbrella provision for projects that make the visible connection between water and power, according to Gary Woodward, of the University of Arizona’s SAHRA (UA’s Sustainability of Semi-Arid Hydrology and Riparian Areas) Center. Woodward helped the Nature Conservancy identify and acquire the grant.
Together, the buried rainwater cache and the 18-foot tall tower that collects roof water will supply water for the entire 2.35-acre campus, under a design created by students and faculty at the UA’s architecture division to demonstrate desert sustainability.
The 240 solar panels are mounted on a shade structure, and together with the grant-funded water storage solution, will serve as an example to other non-profits, businesses and even homes, who will be able to tour the grounds and find more information on sustainable practices in the building lobby.