The Arkansas office of the Audubon Society plans to spend $80,000 to install solar panels on its grounds, which will make the nonprofit's Little Rock office wholly powered from a renewable source.
The office said the center, located in the Granite Mountain community, would be the state's first nonprofit to utilize 100% solar energy and that the project was made possible by an act passed during the 2019 legislative session. The Audubon Society is a conservation organization founded in 1905 that advocates for birds and their habitats, in addition to broader environmental goals on clean air and water.
The solar panels will be paired with an interactive "solar learning lab" inside the organization's visitor center for nonprofit leaders and K-12 students to explore how solar energy is generated.
"We're thrilled to be able to walk the talk and actually install solar versus just encouraging other people to," said Uta Meyer, the center manager for Audubon Arkansas.
Construction is to begin in a few weeks, she added.
State legislation passed last year paved the way for the center to adopt solar power, Meyer said.
Audubon Arkansas, the Arkansas chapter of the Sierra Club, and corporate heavyweights such as Target and Walmart pushed for Senate Bill 145, also known as the 2019 Solar Access Act. The measure, which earned bipartisan support, allowed third-party solar leasing for individuals and tax-exempt organizations like nonprofits, counties and schools.
The law also increased the maximum kilowatts that can be generated by solar panels without an entity needing a utility designation.
The act "really made it an option for people like us, for nonprofits, to actually pursue solar [and] made it economical and feasible for us," Meyer said.
A Little Rock-based company, Scenic Hill Solar, will build, own and operate Audubon's 35-kilowatt facility.
"As the first nonprofit organization in Arkansas to utilize 100 percent solar electricity, Audubon Arkansas is simultaneously building on its rich history of environmental stewardship and conserving scarce budget resources," said Bill Halter, the company's chief executive officer, in a statement announcing the project. "We are proud to partner with such an exemplary organization."
The project was supported by two $40,000 grants -- one from the national Audubon Society and another from the multinational company 3M, which operates a Little Rock facility near the Audubon Arkansas center that makes granules for use in asphalt roofing.
When soliciting bids for the solar array, Meyer said the organization wanted the solar panels to be something people could look at outside, as opposed to placing the panels out of sight on the building's roof. The educational exhibit indoors will show how much energy the solar panels are producing at any given time.
The panels will occupy a relatively small area behind the center next to a walking trail that runs up the hillside with signs visible to people as they pass by en route to the trail.
Meyer said the center plans to incorporate native plants into the solar array as they continue to restore the hillside with native wildlife.
A 2019 report from the national Audubon Society predicted a dire future for America's birds if carbon emissions are not reduced.
Using climate models and habitat maps, the organization found that two-thirds of North American bird species -- 389 species in all -- are at increasing risk of extinction as climate change distorts and, in some scenarios, eliminates their livable habitat altogether.
Climatic change presents a more serious threat to birds with every degree of warming that occurs beyond 1.5 degrees Celsius over preindustrial levels, the report says.
"Where birds would have to shift with the changes that would take place as a result of that is pretty alarming, and then if you're having to shift where you are based on that temperature change, where you need to go may not be a spot that's suitable for you, right?" Meyer said.
Meyer said Audubon encourages people to provide good micro-habitats in their own backyards to give birds room to shift as temperatures rise.
Audubon Arkansas has traveled "a long road" to adopting 100% clean energy, she said.
"I hope other people look at the options and see this as a possibility for themselves, too," Meyer said.
Metro on 03/03/2020
CORRECTION: Audubon Arkansas is a state office of the National Audubon Society. An article in Tuesday’s edition misidentified the office’s relationship with the national organization.