Philadelphia Eagles green: Lincoln Financial Field generating energy with solar panels, turbines

Posted: April 16, 2013

The Eagles' newest player is a real powerhouse.

The stats are electrifying: On a recent sunny day, this bulky unit churned out 21,033.7 kilowatt hours, nearly enough to power two average homes for a year.

Yes, the long-awaited solar panels and wind turbines at Lincoln Financial Field are up and running.

More than 11,000 panels have been positioned atop the roof, over some of the parking spots, and armoring the side of the building along I-95.

Those are the workhorses.

The eye candy is the 14 wind turbines atop the ends of the stadium - meant to distract visiting kickers, one official joked.

Actually, they are intended to be "a visual representation of our commitment to sustainable efforts," said Eagles president Don Smolenski.

But no less, a sign of football brio.

Drawings of a previous incarnation of the project made the turbines look disappointingly like party pinwheels. Among stadium folks, the new ones, which are 15 feet tall and weigh 1,016 pounds each, are said to resemble "bad-ass eggbeaters."

On sunny days when not much is going on at the stadium, the power from the $30 million array will go back into the grid. On game days, the stadium will be sucking power back from the grid.

At the final tally, 30 percent of the power used in the stadium is expected to come from the panels and turbines. As for the rest, the team is purchasing renewable energy credits to cover it.

As for the $30 million, it may sound pricey, but it's only the equivalent of the base salary for just five of the top players this season. (Those particular powerhouses are Jason Peters, $10.4 million; DeSean Jackson, $6.75 million; DeMeco Ryans, $6.6 million; plus Michael Vick and Trent Cole, $3.5 million each.)

The project has been as elusive as a playoff appearance the last two seasons. The Eagles announced a similar plan in 2010 with Florida-based Solar Blue, aiming for the project to be completed by the 2011 home opener. But the details couldn't be worked out, and the team came up with a new game plan and a new partner, NRG Solutions of Princeton.

NRG, which put up the $30 million, will own, maintain, and operate the system. The Eagles have agreed to buy back power from NRG for a predetermined price over a set period of time.

Whether it actually saves the team money remains to be seen; it depends on how much electricity rates rise in coming years.

But what it does provide, Smolenski said, is predictability. The Eagles know what their electric costs, one of the largest expenses for the stadium, will be for years to come.

NRG's solar installation at Lincoln Financial Field is the NFL's largest.

The company has partnerships with seven other teams.

At the Washington Redskins' FedEx Field, NRG panels are atop a new parking structure and ramps.

At MetLife Stadium, where the New York Jets and New York Giants play, NRG installed a "solar ring" of 1,350 panels that doubles as a dramatic lighting statement.

The New England Patriots' Patriot Place has panels atop an open-air retail complex.

More installations are in the works for Houston, Dallas, and the new 49ers stadium in Santa Clara, Calif.

NRG has bragging rights to being the largest competitive power producer in the country, creating enough energy to power almost 40 million homes. Its fleet of power plants is dominated by more traditional fuels - nuclear, coal, and natural gas.

Tom Gros, president of NRG Solutions, said the idea behind the NFL projects was not just to make power, but to make a statement.

"We wanted people who come to this iconic structure to think about energy differently," he said. Not to mention thinking about his firm differently.

Most people think of solar panels as things you plop on a roof, and wind turbines as those towering windmills atop high hills.

But the building-front panels at the Linc are interspersed with LED lights that resemble the wings on the Eagles' helmets. The turbines are significantly snazzier.

"What you see in this array is a statement of our future," Gros said.

NRG was interested in football stadiums because of their visibility.

That's good news for Allen Hershkowitz, a senior scientist with the Natural Resources Defense Council who has coordinated greening efforts for major-league sports teams.

He has been pushing for pro sports to green up their act for years because they are so influential. "Thirteen percent of Americans follow science," he said. "Sixty-one percent of Americans follow sports. If you want to change the world, you have to go where the people are."

The Eagles, he noted, were the first professional sports team in the nation to start down the green path, beginning with blue paper-recycling buckets that went under every desk.

Then came the public service announcements and the advertising. By now, the Eagles are recycling 99.8 percent of their waste. They are converting used fryer oil from the concession stands to biodiesel and are using it in their equipment. They are composting food waste.

"They still represent the gold standard in stadium greening," Hershkowitz said.

Next in the Eagles' playbook is a way to capture the rain that waterfalls off the roof. Maybe use it to flush the toilets or water the field, said Leonard Bonacci, vice president of events and operations.

But for now, the solar panels and turbines are the focus.

The team first started tracking the power it produces on Feb. 8. By the end of last week, the system had generated roughly 720,000 kilowatt hours of power - enough to power an average home for 63 years.

And as Bonacci boasted recently to a group of visiting high school students: The team remains undefeated so far this year.


Contact Sandy Bauers at 215-854-5147, sbauers@phillynews.com, or follow on Twitter @sbauers. Read her blog, "GreenSpace," at www.philly.com/greenspace.

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