Eagles aim to turn Lincoln Financial Field into world's greenest stadium

An artists rendering of Lincoln Financial Field with the addition of wind turbines around the upper edge and solar panels covering portions of the stadium roof and facade, expected to be installed by September.
An artists rendering of Lincoln Financial Field with the addition of wind turbines around the upper edge and solar panels covering portions of the stadium roof and facade, expected to be installed by September. (Tony Fitts)
Posted: November 18, 2010

The Philadelphia Eagles' Lincoln Financial Field, built before the advent of seriously green construction, is soon to become the greenest stadium in the world, the club is to announce Thursday.

Come opening day next September, if all goes as planned, the upper rim of the stadium will be studded with 100 spiral-shape wind turbines.

Some 2,500 solar panels will cover portions of the roof and facade, tilting south.

In the parking lot - not where the fans park - the Eagles will build a cogeneration power plant that can run on biodiesel or natural gas.

Taken together, the Eagles say, the three sources will fully power any game, even as the stadium lights blaze, and the sound system blasts.

In effect, the team will be off the grid, although the system will remain tethered to feed unneeded juice back into the grid.

"The Eagles continue to lead the way," NFL Commissioner Roger Goodell said.

Kudos came even from Steelers country, where a sustainability expert at Carnegie Mellon University called the plan "impressive" and said it would bring important visibility to alternative energy.

The Eagles say the plan also is good business. The team expects to save $60 million in energy costs over the next two decades.

"We never really accepted the notion that to do great by the environment would not be a wise business practice, or too costly," owner Jeffrey Lurie said.

The assertion about being the greenest stadium is tough to prove, given that no independent authority exists.

With the international trend of sports teams turning green, there are plenty of contenders, from Taiwan's 100 percent solar-powered Dragon Stadium, where panels cover the serpentine structure like scales, to the Stade de Suisse arena in Bern, Switzerland, also powered solely by solar.

In the United States, at least 18 professional sports stadiums have installed some solar power.

Nine more have been granted LEED certification, a green rating from the U.S. Green Building Council.

Then there's Pocono Raceway, where a $16 million array of solar panels has led NASCAR to proclaim it the world's largest solar-powered sports facility.

Lots more green upgrades are in the works. At least five more pro sports venues or organizations are considering going for an LEED rating. Comcast-Spectacor, owner of the Flyers and 76ers, is among them, according to company spokesman Ike Richman.

Last month, California Gov. Arnold Schwarzenegger signed a bill clearing the way for construction of an $800 million ultragreen stadium in Los Angeles to lure an NFL team back to the city.

But the Eagles are sticking with their green blitz.

"We take a city in which we have a mayor talking about becoming the greenest city in the country, and we create what we believe - and we've researched it - to be the most advanced project of its kind in the world," Eagles president Joe Banner said.

Others are impressed.

"Most ambitious," Mayor Nutter said. "We could not be more excited or more supportive." He said the wind turbines, in particular, "will literally be electrifying."

Although the solar and wind devices represent only a fraction of the power to be generated on site, they add pizzazz.

"Millions of people will be coming to this facility over the years, or going by it on the highway, or flying over it, or seeing it when games are broadcast on national TV," Goodell said. "People will recognize it's possible to be environmentally sensitive and to have smart policies that are good for business. And that you can do that around a sporting event or a stadium."

Also among the cheerleaders is Allen Hershkowitz, a senior scientist and director of the sports greening initiative at the Natural Resources Defense Council, a nonprofit advocacy group.

Also, a resident of Giants territory.

The way Hershkowitz sees it, the Luries and the Eagles "gave birth to the modern movement of green professional sports."

Completed in 2003, Lincoln Financial Field was built before green construction was widely known, or perhaps even practical.

Later that year, at the instigation of Lurie's wife, Christina Weiss Lurie, the team launched a "Go Green" effort that has grown.

World champs

In 2009, it boasted a recycling rate of 31.7 percent. Although some sports teams have rates more than twice that - the world-champion San Francisco Giants baseball team is at 81 percent, for instance - the Eagles' rate has been growing.

The Eagles compost food, plant trees to offset travel, use organic fertilizers, and stock the concession stands with bioplastics. The team sends fryer oil out to be made into biodiesel, which comes back to fuel its equipment.

In 2009, the stadium used 50 percent less energy than it did in 2003, Christina Lurie said.

Even if not everyone regards biodiesel and natural gas as renewable energy, even if both still have emissions, and even if solar and wind will provide only a fraction of the Eagles' power, "what they're doing is wonderful," Hershkowitz said. "There should be no cynicism about this."

Studies have shown that only 18 percent of Americans pay attention to science, but as many as 56 percent pay attention to sports, he said. "If you want to change the world, you have to go where people are. That's what the Eagles are doing."

The Eagles' partner in the project is Solar Blue, an Orlando renewable-energy and energy-conservation company.

The team is providing the real estate, while Solar Blue is installing, operating, and maintaining the equipment - an investment of up to $30 million.

What makes it work for Solar Blue, in part, is that the Eagles have agreed to a 20-year contract to buy the electricity at a fixed 3 percent annual increase.

The capacity of the plant will be 7.6 megawatts; the solar and wind together will add only .86 of a megawatt.

South Philly is hardly known as a solar mecca or a place with the wind of a mountain pass, where most of the state's other turbines have gone.

But as the team researched the project, it found to its surprise that solar and wind were doable.

The stadium sits in full sun. The vertical-axis turbines begin generating electricity at lower wind speeds than the huge, three-blade versions - at about six miles an hour, said Lee Maher, CEO of Solar Blue.

'Wow' factor

National Weather Service statistics show that monthly average sustained wind speeds at nearby Philadelphia International Airport ranged from 8 miles an hour in August to 10.9 miles an hour in March.

The "wow" factor alone of the panels and those turbines - they sort of resemble giant festive lanterns - will generate discussion, said David Dzombak, faculty director of the Steinbrenner Institute for Environmental Education and Research at Carnegie Mellon University.

Too much about alternative energy and climate change "is, perhaps, for the general public, an abstraction, and this will make it real," Dzombak said.

"It will stimulate the public discussion about where our energy comes from and where it should come from in the future," he said.

The system is expected to generate an equivalent amount of electricity to power 26,000 homes, and the carbon emissions avoided will equate to removing 41,000 cars from the road each year, the team said.

The Eagles pointed out that the project is being undertaken without grants, loans, or other public funds.

'Not just do-good'

The anticipated $60 million savings over 20 years may not sound like a lot; $3 million a year doesn't usually cover a good quarterback.

But it's nothing to be sniffed at, either. "It's not just do-good environmentalism," said Michael Leeds, a Temple University professor who specializes in sports economics.

Eagles officials said they picked Solar Blue, which also is working with the Boston Red Sox and Fenway Park, because the company was willing to think big.

Solar Blue also expects to employ 200 people during the design and installation phase, and about 50 of the jobs will be retained over the life of the contract, they said. In addition, 600 jobs will be generated by using local contractors, vendors, and suppliers.

In the end, Jeffrey Lurie said, it's all about creating momentum.

"The rest of the world has led the way" when it comes to facing climate change, he said. "It behooves American business to join those that have been much more aware, and not wait for the government and not wait for the paradigms in America to change. That's the challenge and the opportunity here."


Contact staff writer Sandy Bauers at 215-854-5147 or sbauers@phillynews.com.

Visit her blog at http://go.philly.com/greenspace

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