Solar power lights up Antigone Books, Brooklyn Pizza, Sky Bar

September 16, 2011

By Teya Vitu



4th Avenue is a shining light for solar power.

Brooklyn Pizza/Sky Bar and Antigone Books installed enough solar panels on their roofs this year to produce all the electricity they use with the power of the sun.

Antigone, 411 N. 4th Ave.,  is the first known bookstore in the country that is 100 percent solar powered. Brooklyn Pizza, 534 N. 4th Ave is one of only three known restaurants that have gone 100 percent solar and the other two are also pizza joints, according to Technicians for Sustainability, the Tucson firm at 612 N. 7th Ave. that installed the solar power systems at Brooklyn and Antigone.

Brooklyn Pizza owner Tony Vaccaro started his transition to solar power with 68 rooftop panels in 2008 and he added 18 more solar panels in 2009 to produce a combined 19 kilowatts of electricity. Early this year, he added the rows of parking lot panels to now give him 237 panels, which produce 91 kilowatts – enough electricity for his pizza eatery and neighboring Sky Bar.

“I listened to my heart, I listened to my gut,” Vaccaro said. “’You need to do this. You need to be 100 percent solar. 30-40 percent is not good enough.’ If you really want to be a guiding light, you need to go all the way.”

Vaccaro indeed was the guiding light for Antigone Books owners Trudy Mills and Kate Randal, who switched on their 45-panel, 14-kilowatt system in March 2011.

Antigone Books is the first known bookstore to go 100 percent solar.

“The inspiration for us was seeing Tony’s.” Mills said. “It was on our list but we weren’t really chasing it.”

Mills was riding her bike in last year’s Cyclovia when she saw the booth for Technicians for Sustainability.

“I got off my bike and chatted with them,” Mills said and within a month they committed to solar. “It was so quick. It was so easy. I thought it would be a paperwork nightmare, but it wasn’t.”

Vaccaro equally praises TFS.

“TFS did an awesome job,” Vaccaro said. “They did everything. They dealt with the city.”

Brooklyn/Sky Bar’s monthly electric bill is about $15 now year-round, down from the normal $1,000 that peaked to $2.600 in summer. Antigone writes a $9.09 check each month to Tucson Electric Power rather than the $174 to $686 electric bills they had before.

Granted, Vaccaro paid more than $100,000 for his solar power system even with the hefty state, local and federal grants that cut his share of the cost to about one-third.

“I could have bought a really nice house with a swimming pool,” Vaccaro said about his choice to invest in solar. “I could have bought a really nice car.”

Antigone’s Mills and Randal paid about $19,000 and a TEP grant supplied $32,000 and a federal grant $21,000 for their $72,000 system.

“That really made it doable,” Mills said.

Antigone expects solar power to pay for itself in about four to five years, and Brooklyn/Sky Bar should cover its cost in about seven to eight years.

“The panels last 30 years,” Vaccaro said. “That’s a long time for free electricity. We need to take better care of the Earth. If we can move the world to solar, wind and clean energy, the world would be a better place.”

Tony Vaccaro put solar panels on the Sky Bar roof and over the parking lot.

Federal grants pay 30 percent of the cost for a small business to install solar power, state grants cover 10 percent and TEP offers an upfront incentive of 30-35 percent, said Danielle Kontovas, a member at Technicians for Sustainability.

“With the federal, state and TEP incentives, it’s something a lot of people should look at,” Kontovas said.

Vaccaro has had an eye on solar power since he was 12 and back then he thought 30 years later solar power would be prevalent. Vaccaro will be pleased to know that he may drop out of the Top 5 largest solar power systems among small businesses in Tucson.

“That will change pretty soon,” Kontovas said. “There will be seven to 10 commercial projects in the next six months that will be larger than Tony’s.”

Tucson Electric Power recognizes the value of having two prominent 4th Avenue retail businesses showcasing solar power.

“4th Avenue is a great place for solar installation for our purposes,” TEP spokesman Joe Salkowski said. “It’s a fantastic marketing vehicle for us. (Brooklyn Pizza’s) really puts the solar energy front and center.”