Southwest Environment

Stories written by University of Arizona students

Department of Soil, Water and Environmental Science
The Stories

Solar pizza comes to Tucson’s Fourth Avenue

Tony Vaccaro's solar panelsPhoto by Daneb Josue Sanchez
Tony Vaccaro, owner of Brooklyn Pizza, shows off some of the solar panels he has installed.

By Daneb Josue Sanchez, May 5, 2010

“Order up!” In a restaurant on Tucson’s Fourth Avenue, that can mean a slice of solar powered pizza. Tony Vaccaro, owner of Brooklyn Pizza, is setting an example for other small businesses in the area by investing in solar power for his pizza restaurant and bar.

An array of 86 solar panels sit on top of the roof, while the four tables below always seem to be< filled with people eating slices of pizza and socializing with their friends.

“I made the decision about two years ago, before the recession,” says Vaccaro. “Even if I would have known of the coming recession, I would probably still have done it. It was 90 percent ethical, nine percent financial and one percent a marketing decision.”

Alain Campos, a regular at Vaccaro’s Sky Bar, says he feels Vaccaro’s investment will pay off in the long run. “It is nice to see a local business trying to do something about the environment,” says Campos. “Especially one that is always full of young people.”

Brooklyn Pizza was the first restaurant in Tucson to install a large-scale solar power system. Since then, more restaurants have installed systems, explains Joe Barrios, media specialist with Tucson Electric Power, who notes that TEP handles applications for solar incentives such as tax credits. As of April 2010, two more Tucson restaurants had applied for incentives.

Solar systems remain an expensive venture even after the various national and state incentives. For instance, for the first 68 panels installed in 2008, Brooklyn Pizza received a $30,600 federal tax credit, $10,200 state credit and a $36,500 TEP rebate for a total of $77,350. This covered roughly 75 percent of the total investment. He still had to invest more than $25,000 in the system.

“I’m hoping for a seven-year return investment. After that, it’s free electricity,” says Vaccaro.

solar panelsPhoto by Daneb Josue Sanchez
Solar panels collect sunlight from their rooftop perch above a Fourth Avenue eatery.
In September 2009, he added another 18 panels. The current system theoretically could produce up to 18,500 watts, enough to power approximately 55 home refrigerators. However, no system runs at full capacity. So, for instance, at midday on April 30, the system was generating about 14,700 watts, enough to power 42 refrigerators.

Brooklyn’s solar power system helps the environment by saving energy and reducing emissions of heat-trapping greenhouse gases.

By using solar power instead of coal-powered electricity, the system is projected to offset the use of 25,000 pounds of coal a year, and thus prevent the release of 54,600 pounds of carbon dioxide annually, according to Technicians For Sustainability (TFS). Danielle Kontovas, TFS representative, says the group obtained these figures by matching the amount of kilowatt-hours produced to the TEP industry standards in producing the same amount of energy using coal-powered electrical plants. TFS estimated the system also saves about 12,000 gallons of water per year that would otherwise have been needed to produce that amount of power.

Vaccaro hired TFS to oversee the installation of his solar array. After TEP technicians inspected the site, he was given the green light to go ahead with the system. He says he hopes others will realize that going solar is not only good business but also morally rewarding.

“I understand not every business can afford this kind of investment in times like this,” says Vaccaro. “Still, I would really like to see more panels start to appear on our Fourth Avenue skyline.”

Daneb Josue Sanchez, born and raised in Mexico, now is working on a bachelor’s degree in Environmental Science leading to a master’s program in Environmental Engineering at the University of Arizona. He wants to specialize in green design and sustainable living.

This story ran in the May issue of the Tucson Green Times.

next story
return to main stories page