Most tenth birthdays are celebrated with cake, friends, and the kid you don’t really know but whose mom is friends with your mom so you had to invite him. However, the Tompkins County SPCA has taken a different route to celebrate the tenth anniversary of the Dorothy and Roy Park Pet Adoption Center on Hanshaw Road.

On June 17, the Tompkins County SPCA began installing a “roof-mounted solar array,” which is a type of solar panel set-up. The organization hopes that the new technology will free up much-needed funds to better support its furry clientele.

As a “No Kill” or “Adoption Guarantee” shelter, Tompkins County’s SPCA guarantees that it will house and nurture any animal with a treatable physical or behavioral condition until the animal finds a home, rather than euthanizing unclaimed animals.

When the SPCA transitioned to this practice in 1999, it became the first “Adoption Guarantee” shelter in the United States. At the same time, its operational costs tripled due to the expenses associated with rehabilitating and housing animals for extended periods.

Given these high costs, the solar array is expected to bring welcome savings. The SPCA projects that the shift to solar power will cut electrical costs by $6,600 dollars every year, resulting in $340,000 saved over the 25-year life of the system.

The change will also allow the organization to continue its history of environmental sustainability. When it opened in 2004, the Park Adoption Center became the first LEED-certified animal welfare agency in the United States.

Executive Director of the Tompkins County SPCA Jim Bouderau described the panels’ installation as an important continuation of the organization’s values.

“We are taking the next step in our future as a financially and environmentally sustainable organization by going solar,” he said in a press release.

SPCA’s Executive Director Jim Bouderau is on the right with a pup and a check. (Courtesy of the Tompkins County SPCA)

The greatest challenge in developing such environmentally-friendly facilities tends to be the high up-front cost. The Park Adoption Center installation cost $100,000, over 8 percent of the organization’s $1.2 million operating budget.

It is a sum that Bouderau admitted would have been impossible for the group to cover on its own. Luckily, the organization has benefits from strong community ties.

Despite its name, the Tompkins County SPCA does not receive much money from Uncle Sam. Out of the $1.2 million it requires to function, the organization receives $920,000 every year from the community, compared with only $30,000 from Tompkins County through a public safety program that gives rabies shots to stray cats and dogs.

To avoid encouraging all community donors to shift their support from the SPCA to a single, specific project, the organization approached a select few donors to help support the solar installation.

Though these donors are, for the moment, remaining anonymous, Bouderau was able to say that it came down to a set of seven donors, one of whom personally contributed nearly half of the total cost.

“We could not have even dreamed of embarking upon this project without some very special friends committed to the SPCA of Tompkins County, and by extension to the entire No Kill movement,” Bouderau noted. “It thrills me that we are able to have the array installed this summer and know that we will begin to see budgetary savings this fiscal year.”

The panels are being installed by Renovus Energy, an Ithaca-based company specializing in renewable energy systems. Though it is customary for tenth birthday celebrations to end in a want-to-stay-longer-nervous-breakdown, both the SPCA and Renovus expect the installation to go far more smoothly.

Jeff Stein

Jeff Stein is the founder and former editor of the Ithaca Voice.