Case study: The Elephant Sanctuary is now home to solar

Published October 31, 2017

North America’s largest natural habitat refuge for captive elephants is located right here in Middle Tennessee. Since 1995, The Elephant Sanctuary has provided elephants retired from zoos and circuses with a safe refuge and the companionship of other elephants. The facility has grown to 2,700 acres and has provided sanctuary to 27 elephants. Though the elephants’ habitats are closed to the public, they can be seen swinging their tails, swimming, and enjoying the sunshine via live streaming “EleCams” online.

The Elephant Sanctuary Solar
40kW at The Elephant Discovery Center

In downtown Hohenwald, Tennessee, visitors can experience The Elephant Sanctuary’s Outdoor Classroom, a space that is open 24/7 with educational murals, sculptures and exhibits on wild elephants. The indoor Elephant Discovery Center is currently under construction and will reopen soon with new exhibits and hands on activities for the public, students and other groups. One of its newest features is a 40kW rooftop solar PV system. LightWave Solar flipped the switch on the system last week!

“We want to be a model for environmental sustainability,” says Kate Mason, Communications Coordinator at The Elephant Sanctuary. “Solar panels fit into our mission which focuses on wildlife education and fostering respect for wildlife and the planet,” she says.

Though The Elephant Discovery Center is the site of 91 solar panels, The Elephant Sanctuary does not own the system. Good Earth Energy LLC owns the project and will capture the federal solar tax benefits.

“Solar is a win-win situation for me,” says Bruce Clark, sole member of Good Earth Energy LLC. “I’m from Kentucky, and my first motivation was to offset the need for coal that comes from taking the tops off of mountains in Appalachia,” he explains. “I receive the added benefit of a federal tax credit and depreciation,” he says.

Good Earth Energy LLC will receive all of the solar revenue but pays The Elephant Sanctuary an annual lease payment for use of their rooftop. Eventually, Good Earth Energy LLC will donate the system to The Elephant Sanctuary, and at that point, The Elephant Sanctuary will keep all of the solar revenue.

Bruce Clark chose The Elephant Sanctuary as the site of his most recent solar project because he saw a video about a 50 year old elephant, Shirley (now 69 years old!), who moved to The Elephant Sanctuary from Louisiana. Shirley spent her first 30 years in a circus and then 20 years without contact with another elephant. Finally at The Elephant Sanctuary, she was reunited with an elephant she had not seen in almost 25 years! Watch the surprising and heartwarming video (above). Bruce was deeply moved.

“Before seeing the video, I didn’t know such a place existed in Tennessee,” Bruce says. “I reached out to the folks at The Elephant Sanctuary, and they were highly motivated to help make the solar project happen,” he says. “They are committed to sustainability,” he adds.

The system atop The Elephant Sanctuary is the third solar project Good Earth Energy LLC has financed, and Bruce Clark is looking for a suitable site for a fourth solar project. If you would like to learn more about becoming a solar system host and review the criteria for Good Earth Energy LLC’s next project, click here.

The Elephant Sanctuary plans to incorporate solar education at the Discovery Center and feature real-time system performance on a digital display. To learn more about The Elephant Sanctuary and see the elephants on the EleCams, go here.