The Big House might be one of the largest stadiums in the country, but one group wants to also make it one of the most environmentally friendly.
The Ecology Center, an Ann Arbor-based nonprofit group, started a project called Ann Arbor 350, which aims to convince the University to install solar panels on Michigan Stadium. Though the project has been met with a mixed response from the University, the group started a petition calling for the installation and has collected more than 530 signatures as of last night.
A similar petition was also started on www.change.org and has garnered about 3,000 signatures in 15 days. Ann Arbor 350 has a goal of reaching 10,000 signatures on its petition, according to the project website.
University alum Monica Patel, who organized the Ann Arbor 350 petition, said though the Ecology Center cannot determine the exact feasibility of the project, Patel is urging University officials to show support for using solar energy.
“(We want) to use the Big House as a tool for education about the industry,” she said.
Though many of the supportive comments on the online petition are from University students, alumni and faculty, Patel said, the Ecology Center has not received a direct response from the University administration.
Terry Alexander, executive director of the Office of Campus Sustainability, said the University has considered an investment in solar panels for several years, but the plan might not be feasible because the initiative won’t result in significant cost-savings for the University. It would take about 70 years to recover the original costs of the project because there isn’t adequate roof space on the stadium for panels to garner a sufficient amount of energy, according to Alexander.
“Solar (energy) isn’t efficient in this part of the country,” he said.
Alexander added that even without a solar-powered football stadium, the University is committed to energy conservation efforts. Seventy campus buildings have undergone energy conservation updates, generating $2.5 million in savings that has been invested back into University departments.
These savings are “incentive (for schools and colleges) to do even more energy conservation,” Alexander said.
The sustainable projects typically earn back their original costs over a 6 to 10 year period, which is more feasible than Ann Arbor 350’s plan estimated to take at least 70 years, Alexander said.
Despite the unlikelihood of the implementation of the project, some students are in support of installing solar panels on the Big House.
Rackham student Devi Glick said she thinks the installation would greatly affect ecological activism on campus. But she noted that there are other ways to promote energy conservation.
“Putting solar panels on the Big House would look amazing, and it would send a strong message that the University is serious about campus sustainability,” Glick said. “However, covering the Big House with solar panels is not the only way to raise awareness about campus sustainability.”
Glick, who is a board member of the Student Sustainability Initiative on campus, suggested environmentally friendly alternatives like having the University implement “zero waste” football games and allow students to bring reusable water bottles into the stadium.
Despite the Office of Campus Sustainability’s apprehension toward the solar panel project, the Ecology Center still hopes to garner more support for the cause, Patel said. To boost the number of supporters, she said Ann Arbor 350 plans to talk with students and community members at upcoming football games.
“As long as there is interest, we will move forward,” Patel said.
This isn’t the first time solar panels have come up at the University. In 2005, solar panels were installed on the roof of the University’s renovated Dana Building.