Thursday, July 10, 2014
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Eagles and NRG team up to green the stadium with solar, wind

A year and a half after first announcing plans for solar power at the Philadelphia Eagles stadium, the franchise announced Thursday that it was teaming up with a new partner - solar giant NRG of Princeton - and tweaking the plan. NRG will design, build and operate an array of more than 11,000 solar panels and 14 micro wind turbines that, over the course of a year, will provide six times the power used during all Eagles home games.

Eagles and NRG team up to green the stadium with solar, wind

A rendering of the Linc at night, with the solar panels illuminated. (NRG)
A rendering of the Linc at night, with the solar panels illuminated. (NRG)

A year and a half after first announcing plans for solar power at the Philadelphia Eagles stadium, the franchise announced today that it was teaming up with a new partner — solar giant NRG of Princeton — and tweaking the plan.

NRG will design, build and operate an array of more than 11,000 solar panels and 14 micro wind turbines that, over the course of a year, will provide six times the power used during all Eagles home games at Lincoln Financial Field, the team said.

This time, the Eagles are working with a major player, a company that has already done a similar project at the Redskins’ stadium, in the suburbs of Washington, D.C.

Not that there’s a competition, but team officials said it would be the biggest solar array in the NFL.

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“It was important for us to be as green as we could be,” said Eagles chief operting officer Don Smolenski. “We’re trying to be leaders in this area, and if that inspires others to try and catch us … it’s one of those things where everybody wins.”

The installation, which Smolenski said would be “an iconic project for the stadium and the city,” is due to be completed by December.

Plans call for a wall of panels on the south-facing facade of the stadium — visible from I-95. More panels will be mounted atop the overhangs at the top of the stadium.

Still more will cover some of the parking spaces. Cars will be able to park underneath, and Smolenski said — only half jokingly — that they will not interfere with tailgating or pre-game football-tossing.

“It was an important criteria of the design,” he said.

Plans also call for helix-shaped wind turbines atop the stadium. However, these will be more eco-eye candy than renewable energy workhorses.

“They’ll provide a visual and a symbolic representation of our commitment to clean energy,” Smolenski said.

The arrangement is basically a typical “power purchase agreement,” where NRG owns the equipment and the energy it generates. The Eagles provide the real estate and agree buy power back from the company at predetermined rates for 20 years.

NRG also will be an official sponsor of the team, which means fans will see its name in a few more places, yet to be determined.

Mayor Nutter said he was “thrilled” that the Eagles were moving foward with the project. “As part of the City's Greenworks goals, we are hoping to reduce citywide building energy consumption by 10 percent by 2015. This highly visible sustainability project will be viewed by hundreds of thousands of Philadelphians during Eagles game broadcasts and by commuters on the I-95 corridor every day.”

NRG has been actively wooing professional sports teams and other major venues.

“We think it provides a tremendous opportunity to highlight how renewable energy can be built into a really public venue,” said company spokesman Stephen Morisseau.

The idea is that the millions of people who attend or tune into NFL games every year “will see that solar power really is a viable reality. It’s not science fiction or off in the future,” he said.

The company also installed a solar array at the Washington Redskins stadium. When it was completed last fall and unveiled for the team’s home opener, it was hailed as the largest at a professional football stadium.

Since then, NRG also has annouced agreements to install solar at two more stadiums.

In December, the company announced an agreement with the New Meadowlands Stadium Company to bring solar power to the home of the New York Jets and Giants.

It will include a “solar ring” encircling the top of the stadium, with the ability to display the team colors. The project is expected to be completed in August.

Days later, the company announced an agreement to triple the solar power capacity at the New England Patriots’ stadium and to pursue adding a full-sized wind turbine. That, too, would be completed by the team’s home opener this fall.

In a team press release, Eagles chairman and CEO Jeffrey Lurie called NRG “a respected leader in the energy field” and said, “we’re eager to use this project at Lincoln Financial Field to continue our leadership role on environmental issues.”

NRG president and chief executive officer David Crane said, also in the press release, that “the new clean energy facilities in and around Lincoln Financial Field will make it clear to all that renewable energy makes sense, economically, aesthetically and envrionmentally, for businesses and individuals in and around Philadelphia.”

The Eagles are credited with setting a new pace for the league when they launched a Go Green! campaign in 2003 that included stepping up recycling efforts, purchasing renewable energy, planting trees to offset carbon emissions from traveling to away games, applying organic fertilizer to the field and using recycled paper for tickets and programs.

The team first announced plans for renewable energy at the stadium in 2010. But the cornerstone of the project was a cogeneration power plant that would use either biodiesel or gas. That idea eventually fizzled because the logistics became too complicated.

“It was envisioned to be plug and play,” Smolenski said at the time. “It turned out to be plug and rebuild and rewire.”

So the team parted company with their original partner, SolarBlue of Florida. Smolenski said that relationship has ended, although on Thursday SolarBlue’s website home page was still showing renderings of Lincoln Financial Field and proclaiming “Eagles go Green with Blue.”

Allen Hershkowitz, director of the sports greening initiative at the Natural Resources Defense Council, a national nonprofit, praised today's announcement.

“It’s confirming a trend of ecologically intelligent improvements at professional sports venues around the country,” he said. ”It’s now no longer simply about environmentally intelligent investments at Lincoln Financial Field. It’s about a bigger trend among sports facilities nationally and globally.”

“These are smart-run businesses. The people who own the Philadelphia Eagles football team, like many successful business people, pay attention to market realities and trends. And what they’re saying is that we’ve got to get off petroleum, and we’ve got to do something about climate disruption.”

Smolenski said that as much as the Eagles wanted to have the project finished for their home opener this fall, it just wasn’t possible.

“We have to be pragmatic and realistic,” he said. “It’s a significant project. It’s going to take a little bit of time.”

Sandy Bauers Inquirer GreenSpace Columnist
About this blog

GreenSpace is about environmental issues and green living. Bauers also writes a biweekly GreenSpace column about environmental health issues for the Inquirer’s Sunday “Health” section.

Sandy Bauers is the environment reporter for the Philadelphia Inquirer, where she has worked for more than 20 years as a reporter and editor. She lives in northern Chester County with her husband, two cats, a large vegetable garden and a flock of pet chickens.

Reach Sandy at sbauers@phillynews.com.

Sandy Bauers Inquirer GreenSpace Columnist
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