NFL's Eagles Lead Division From Gridiron to Power Grid

(An earlier version of this article misstated the the number of parking spots in the lot.)

If the NFL’s Philadelphia Eagles, who wear green, added any more wind or solar power to their stadium, the facility would have to comply with rules meant for Pennsylvania electric utilities.

The team buys power from 14 wind micro-turbines and more than 11,000 photovoltaic cells on and around Lincoln Financial Field, which can produce up to 3 megawatts of power, Don Smolenski, the team’s president, said in an interview last week. "The Linc" now has the largest solar array of any NFL arena, larger than FedEx Field of the Washington Redskins (who the Eagles dispatched this weekend, 24-16).

The stadium’s current power capacity pushes up to the limit for “customer-generators,” or small producers, in Pennsylvania. More solar panels would trigger different regulations, Smolenski said. In particular, the stadium could no longer participate in so-called net-metering, which allows small producers to sell power back into the grid. It would instead belong to a category of power producers that must participate in wholesale electricity markets, according to an NRG Energy spokesperson.

The solar panels and wind turbines were installed by NRG Energy Inc. in 2012 and are owned and operated by the Princeton, New Jersey-based company. The Eagles buy electricity from NRG through a 20-year power purchase agreement.

Smolenski spoke with Bloomberg New Energy Finance's Clean Energy & Carbon Brief about why being “green” is important, how they installed so much renewable capacity so discreetly and where the best parking spots are for tailgating parties.

Q: You describe Lincoln Financial Field as the “greenest NFL stadium.” Why is it important to be number one at this?
A: We felt that we could lead by example. If this can be done in venues like ours, then it can be done in all venues across the country. With the solar project itself, we wanted to raise the bar, not just a little. We wanted to raise it a lot: to really call attention to it to say this can be done and it can be done in other places.

Q: How much power are you producing at the stadium?
A: We’re producing about 3 megawatts of power or about 30 to 35 percent of our annual electricity consumption at the stadium.

Q: So why couldn’t you have added more than 3 megawatts of power generating capacity?
A: In Pennsylvania, if your structure is greater than 3-megawatts then you move into a different set of regulations. That is why our project engrosses under 3 megawatts. On a broad level it moves you into a different regulatory statute. In some respects you almost are to be considered a quote-un-quote utility. So it subjects you to all different types of restrictions and regulations and other types of requirements. We’re a football stadium; we’re not a utility.

Q: How does your deal with NRG work?
A: NRG made the capital investment in the project and we entered into a power purchase agreement with them for 20 years. We buy our power from them, and we net meter with the grid. On some days, we’re drawing power, but then on a sunny Tuesday in April, when there are no events going on at the building, we’re actually spinning the meters the other way.

We buy from NRG at a set rate and we have a set percentage increase every year for the next 20 years. The rate that we purchased was comparable to the rate that we were buying from our previous utility. The fixed escalator percentage provides us with the ability to better manage our future electricity needs from a financial perspective. We’re not subject to market fluctuations. So for example, if electricity jumps 8 percent in a year, or spikes, we will not be impacted by that spike.

Q: A lot of money was spent on making Lincoln Financial Field an attractive venue. Were you worried about ruining the aesthetics?
A: Yes. The aesthetics were important to us. Our goal was to have the project fit into the look of the building. I guess we accomplished that – everything down to the color of the wind turbines. They’re steel-post grey, which is the same color as the steel and everything in the building. Fifteen-hundred panels are on the roof, which you can’t see except by airplane. There are almost 8,000 panels in the front parking lot and another 1,500 panels hanging out in the south side, as well as some structures on the sidewalk leading up to the building.

Aesthetics were important but there are lots of other factors that were important. Productivity was important, cost was important, and we wanted to make sure what we installed didn’t affect the game in any way or the fan experience.

Q: Do those solar canopies in the parking lot affect fan experience at all by taking out valuable spaces or cutting into prime tailgating territory?
A: We re-striped the parking lot in a way that actually, out of 22,000 spaces, I think we lost less than 40. And we ended up providing covered parking for 85 percent of fans that park in that lot.

Q: Must be nice for tailgating parties in the rain…
A: Or cold weather, or the snow, and they’re tall enough that RVs and buses fit underneath. It doesn’t take away from the tailgating experience at all.

Correction: The original version of this article misstated the the total number of parking spots.

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