Dan Snyder, the owner of The Washington Redskins, is not exactly a tree-hugger. To the contrary, he once offered to pay the National Park Service $25,000 to cut down trees on federal land near his estate overlooking the Potomac River. So when Snyder embraces solar power, by installing more than 8,000 solar panels at FedEx Field, well, that tells you something.
It tells you that the economics of solar make sense–because Snyder is known for extracting every dollar he can from the business of the Redskins.
It also tells you that he’s a competitor. The Redskins deal with NRG Energy, a Princeton, N.J.-based independent power producer, took root at last year’s Super Bowl, after the NFL East rival Philadelphia Eagles announced that they were installing solar, wind and biofuel energy at Lincoln Financial Field. [See my 2010 blogpost, Climate leaders: Chevy, NRG Energy and the Eagles].
No surprise, then, that the Redskins/NRG announcement made a point of calling the solar project “the largest installation at an NFL stadium.” It’s also the largest solar installation in the Washington, D.C., metro area.
While I prefer baseball to football, and the New York Giants to the Redskins (despite last Sunday’s game), I made the trek to FedEx field by Metro today to see the solar panels and hear what Snyder and David Crane, the CEO of NRG, had to say about them.
The array is impressive. About 7,500 panels, made in the USA by Sunpower, cover about 841 parking spaces in the lot next to the stadium, providing shade from the sun and rain. Nearby are charging stations for 10 electric cars. Another 525 roof panels and 188 translucent panels over a ramp, made by Schott, show how solar can be built onto existing structures. Finally, thin film solar panels made by Konarka Technologies have been assembled to create “solar man,” a solar-powered sculpture of a quarterback outside the park. Nearby is lots of promotion for solar energy and for NRG, which is a good thing–maybe a few members of Congress will pass by and realize that despite the Solyndra fiasco, solar energy can and does work.
Snyder was in good spirits, and why not, given his team’s spot atop the NFC East. “I’m really proud of this,” he told reporters. “It’s innovative. It’s special. It’s the future.”
I asked Crane how the deal was structured. He said he couldn’t reveal the cost, but that NRG will own the solar installation, which can produce up to two megawatts of electricity, enough to meet 20% of the stadium’s needs of game days and all of its power on non-game days. The Redskins signed a nine-year deal to buy all of its electricity, solar and grid-delivered, from Reliant, an NRG subsidiary the sells electricity in competitive markets like Texas and Maryland. A 30% federal tax credit offsets some of the capital costs.
“Solar power is very price competitive,” Crane said, “but it takes times to recover your money.”
Bottom line: The Redskins will probably pay about the same as they do now for their electricity, but the costs will be predictable for at least nine years and they will reap the PR benefits of going green. Not a bad deal.
NRG and Reliant, meanwhile, enjoy the marketing benefits of a highly visible solar installation just outside the nation’s capital. The solar array will be spotlighted before this Sunday’s home game against the Arizona Cardinals during the “NRG Solar Bowl Quarterback Challenge” featuring ‘Skins veterans Joe Theisman and Mark Rypien.
Finally, here’s a cool video showing how the solar installation was built. It speeds up time, obviously, but it’s worth noting that solar installation took less than four months to build–less than the time from opening week of the NFL to the Super Bowl.