Free Electricity for Non-Profits

As energy costs continue to rise — non-profit organizations have a harder time making the bills. But a program by Green Mountain Energy provides free solar energy to qualifying organizations. Laurie Johnson explains.

The Big Texas Sun Club is an optional program for Green Mountain Energy customers. It allows people to pay an extra $5 a month on their electricity bill. That money then goes into a pool and when there's enough collected, Green Mountain donates a solar array panel to non-profit organizations. Green Mountain's Marketing Director Greg Latson says they've given away 16 solar arrays to Texas non-profits since 2002.

"It's our customers who decided they wanted to do something, you know one more step in changing the way power is made. And that kind of tells you something about our customer base and how interested they are in impacting change. And it's something we're very proud of and happy to use and help."

Last year, the Houston Zoo was a recipient of the program. The Zoo's Rick Ellis says they installed it more than a year ago, on Earth Day, on the back of the lion habitat.

"It is reducing our energy costs a small degree, but it's almost more important that it's the educational factor — that we get 1.7 million people come to this zoo. If they all take a look at this and see hey that's a great idea. And if you can do it individually at your homes, but if corporations start to think this way, that if we as a corporation do this on our building — if more people see our array and go back and do their array and that takes more off the grid, then we've served a purpose of being an educational resource."

Houston Zoo Solar PanelsThe Zoo's solar array offsets about a third of the power it takes to run the lion exhibit. The panels soak up the sun's energy and are wired directly into the building's electrical system. Green Mountain's Latson says for smaller non-profits a solar array can have a noticeable impact on the bottom line.

"They are saving money. And I think that's something that most non-profits are always struggling with fundraising and that type of thing. And this allows them to basically produce some of their own electricity and the power that they produce is clean energy. That means they're not pulling it off the grid where pollution is produced."

Latson says they're accepting applications for the free solar arrays right now.

The only criteria for winning are the organization must  be a 501c3 non-profit and must own a facility in Green Mountain Energy's service area.

The deadline for non-profits to apply is August 21st.

Laurie Johnson. KUHF-Houston Public Radio News.

Bio photo of Laurie Johnson

Laurie Johnson

Local Host, All Things Considered

Laurie Johnson is the Houston host for All Things Considered at KUHF NPR for Houston. Before taking the anchor chair, she worked as a general assignments reporter at KUHF, starting there as an intern in 2002...