A group of alternative energy supporters are looking to make the Big House a little greener. Ann Arbor 350, a project of the Ecology Center — a nonprofit environmental organization based in Ann Arbor — is petitioning to have solar panels installed on Michigan Stadium. The effort will continue through the fall with supporters acquiring signatures on Football Saturdays and circulating the petition online. The University should respond to this petition by seriously looking into the possibility of solar panels or other eco-friendly energy initiatives for the athletic facilities.

The panels will make a statement about the University’s commitment to bettering the environment and reducing the use of fossil fuels. Monica Patel, a policy specialist at the Ecology Center, is calling on University President Mary Sue Coleman, Athletic Director David Brandon and Terry Alexander executive director of the Office of Campus Sustainability to lead the initiative in the pursuit of alternative forms of energy. This venture would make the Big House the first NCAA school to pursue such an eco-friendly endeavor.

There are professional sports teams that have already installed solar panels at their stadiums. The Washington Redskins of the National Football League have begun using solar panels that provide up to 20 percent of Fed-Ex Field’s game day electricity. The Seattle Seahawks and Philadelphia Eagles have also embraced green technology efforts such as wind turbines and bio-fuel. Solar technology is used in Major League Baseball as well: The San Francisco Giants, Boston Red Sox, Cleveland Indians and Colorado Rockies have solar panels installed on the roof of their respective stadiums. In all cases, the technology serves to offset conventional energy usage and reduce emissions.

The Big House and Crisler Arena have undergone recent renovations, but increasing energy efficiency at these facilities should be a priority. The University has the opportunity to have the first NCAA stadium to use solar technology, and regardless of whether solar panels are the answer to sustaining Michigan Stadium, something should be done to reduce the environmental impact of the most famous icon of the University’s athletics.

In spite of its obvious benefits, the practicality of the project is a major concern. The findings of a feasibility assessment done in 2009 show that the most efficient module, if installed, would displace 9 percent of the stadium’s energy load per hour, while also reducing other harmful emissions. However, even with these benefits, solar panels are costly. The report estimated the installation of solar panels would cost about $1.5 million. It would take 26 years for that amount to be paid back in energy saved. The University should explore all cost-effective possibilities for alternative fuel before committing to a plan.

The University and the Athletic Department should look seriously into whether solar panels or other alternative fuels are viable options to power the Big House. Solar panels have already been implemented with success at several professional athletic venues, and the University should pioneer these efforts.

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