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The Louisville Zoo's Carousel Will Soon Be Powered By Solar Energy

Construction is planned for a solar installation to power the Louisville Zoo's carousel.
Construction is planned for a solar installation to power the Louisville Zoo's carousel.

Construction is set to begin this week on the latest – and perhaps the most entertaining – public solar display in the city.

Sunshine captured from about a dozen solar panels will be used to spin the carousel at the Louisville Zoo.

Louisville Metro — which operates the zoo — has solar on at least seven other buildings throughout the city including the Hall of Justice, the aquatic center and the zoo’s own administrative building. But this new project, which should be complete by the end of the week, will be among the most highly visible solar installations in the city. And organizers say that visibility is important to help inform the public about solar energy.

The solar panels will be prominently featured near the front of the zoo on top of a pavilion that shades the carousel. When complete, the panels will make about as much as energy as a typical residential array – about three kilowatts of generating capacity.

The goal is to catch the eye of the approximately 865,000 people who are expected to visit the zoo this year.

Local non-profit Solar Over Louisville organized the project to raise awareness and educate future generations about renewable energy – especially in a state still largely powered by coal.

“We hope this will make lots of people aware that solar energy works in Kentucky and it’s something everybody should be thinking about as a way of bringing clean electricity to our economy,” said Wallace McMullen, chair of Solar Over Louisville.

McMullen said the Sierra Club donated $5,000 for the materials. Synergy Home LLC — a Lexington-based installer — is donating its services to install the solar panels this week while the zoo will put up signs explaining the project and educating people about how it works.

Louisville Zoo Director John Walczak sees the project as an extension of the zoo’s core mission to teach people about conservation.

“So much of what we do is to help preserve habitats and species within those habitats and that translates to our energy impact,” Walczak  said. “So the more that we can do in a sustainable fashion, the more we can decrease our impact on the planet and make it a healthier greener place, that’s what we are all about.”

Coal still accounts for about 83 percent of all the electricity generated in Kentucky, but there is a growing interest in solar, according to the Kentucky Department for Energy Development and Independence.

There were at least three solar projects generating a total of about 13,000 kilowatts of power last year, records show. One of those is the E.W. Brown Solar Project, which is a 10 megawatt array at Kentucky Utilities plant near Harrodsburg.

Ryan Van Velzer is WFPL's Energy and Environment Reporter. Email Ryan at rvanvelzer@lpm.org.

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