RENEE MONTAGNE, host:
The Cincinnati Zoo today, Earth Day, is set to become a leader in solar energy. Cheri Lawson of member station WNKU reports.
CHERI LAWSON: Families come to the Cincinnati Zoo to view spring flowers and get a glimpse of the latest attraction.
Unidentified Woman: Look at the baby giraffe's tongue.
LAWSON: It's the first giraffe born at the zoo in 26 years. But visitors may not notice another new addition.
Mr. MARK FISHER (Senior Director of Facilities and Planning, Cincinnati Zoo): We have a 1.6 megawatt solar canopy in our parking lot, 6,400 panels.
LAWSON: The zoo's Mark Fisher says this solar array will produce 20 percent of the power needed at the 60-acre facility.
Mr. FISHER: From elephant houses to manatee filtration systems to the heat for the gorillas. I mean everything needs power and we are a large energy consumer.
LAWSON: Through a complex arrangement of tax credits and bank financing, the zoo has partnered with developer Steve Melink to build and operate the $11 million system. Melink insists that despite its start-up costs, solar is profitable technology, even in the Midwest.
Mr. STEVE MELINK: We have about one and a half times as much the solar resource as Germany, which is the largest market for solar in the world.
LAWSON: The Washington-based Solar Energy Industry Association says the amount of electricity produced by the solar industry doubled last year in the U.S. compared to 2009. Rhone Resch is the Association's president.
Mr. RHONE RESCH (President, Solar Energy Industry Association): And we expect that by 2015 solar electricity will be the lowest cost option for retail electricity in all 50 states.
LAWSON: The Cincinnati Zoo can purchase the system in seven years. For now, it will buy the power it produces at a reduced rate, giving it a hedge against increasing energy costs and helping with its mission of conservation and education.
For NPR News, I'm Cheri Lawson in Cincinnati.
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