Frick Environmental Center labeled site plan 2015

Solar is coming to the Frick Environmental Center, the Animal Rescue League and Milllvale Community Library, thanks to Green Mountain Energy’s Sun Club.

The Sun Club program is funded by Green Mountain’s customers, employees and supporters who have donated more than $3 million in the form of $5 to $250 contributions to support solar projects for nonprofits in Pennsylvania, New York and Texas—states where Green Mountain Energy is a provider of solar.

“This program exists because of our customers,” says Tony Napolillo, program manager of the Sun Club. More than 75 nonprofits have received the funding since the program began in 2002.

This year’s 10 awardees were chosen from a pool of 200 applicants. “These organizations are thoroughly vetted—and we are convinced they are the right candidates,” says Napolillo.

“We look for what the groups are doing for their community, how well solar energy will help their mission and what they can do to promote solar energy education,” he adds.

Here’s the breakdown of the grant distribution:


The Pittsburgh Parks Conservancy, which recently broke ground on construction of the new Frick Environmental Center, received $63,400 for rooftop solar and educational materials for onsite workshops. “Their educational mission was a big part of why we chose them,” says Napolillo.

He sites that the new center will be “an extremely environmentally sound building constructed with the highest standards of energy efficiency.”

“It will rely exclusively on solar—and it’s not a small building.This is a major accomplishment.”

The roof of the parking structure will be comprised of solar arrays (a group of geese is a gaggle, a lay of eggs is a clutch and a group of solar panels is an array), which serve a dual function and also provide shade.

Because talks of the Environmental Center—and its proposed use of solar—have been going on since 2002, the solar panels will cost less today than the original plans. “That’s the great thing about solar—cost is going down and efficiency is going up,” says Napolillo. “It’s becoming more and more affordable.”

A second grantee, Millvale Community Library, received $30,000 for rooftop solar. “They really blew us away.” Napolillo admired that “this group of people came together” to build a library in their community.

The library currently uses partial solar—they have a goal of being 100% solar—but because they run on a tight budget, library officials have to pick and choose what they can afford.

“They want to start a tool-lending library, but to store the tools, they need a dehumidifier for the basement,” says Napolillo. “And they want to add a school lunch program—but they need a refrigerator.” The Sun Club grant can help them achieve their solar goals, which frees up money for these additional projects that “help people build and create—and help kids eat.”


A third grantee, the Animal Rescue League Wildlife Center in Verona, which rehabs sick and injured wild animals, will receive a $50,000 to install rooftop panels. “It will allow them to put more money into their mission to rehab the wonderful wildlife of the area.”

Because the roof of the existing building is low, the array of solar panels will be visible to people ”who will hopefully ask questions about it,” says Napolillo.

And the Sun Club is not the only solar game in town—Allegheny County now has 211 solar installations, and a local group Solarize Allegheny has put forth a goal of recruiting ten new families or companies to go solar in the next several months. Target communities include Point Breeze, Millvale and Etna. Read more about it here.

If you’re still concerned about the feasibility of solar in Pittsburgh, here’s what Napolillo says. “Some places get more sun—but there’s still an abundant amount of energy from the sun even when there’s partial sun or on a cloudy day. Things grow here, right? So, there’s energy enough to make solar work.”

If going solar might help your nonprofit, the SunClub is taking applications for 2016.

“We’re looking unique applications of solar and companies with different missions,” says Napolillo. “We really want to mix it up so we look at how diverse are our applicants and what’s the unique story we want to tell.”

Woods wanderer who was an an editor at New England’s regional magazine, the research director of a Colorado newspaper and a farm hand in Vermont before returning to Pittsburgh to write about and explore her hometown.