Sports stadiums and renewable energy

Sports stadiums and renewable energy

June 23, 2023 | By Sidney Owens in Chicago

Sports stadiums consume massive amounts of energy, making them ideal candidates to integrate solar, wind and other renewable energy technologies that reduce operating costs and carbon footprints and help boost a team's brand as a responsible corporate citizen.


Some stadium operators are already installing solar panels and wind turbines or signing power purchase agreements to buy renewable electricity.

Lincoln Financial Field, home of the Philadelphia Eagles football team, installed 11,000 solar panels through an arrangement with NRG, a retail electricity supplier. NRG owns the equipment and sells power to the stadium at a reduced price. It sells the remaining electricity not needed by the stadium to power other parts of Philadelphia. The arrangement is expected to save the Eagles more than $60 million in energy costs over the next two decades.

Indianapolis Motor Speedway, the host of the Indy 500 auto race, leased land adjacent to the race track to a private developer that built the world's largest solar farm in a sports facility, a nine-megawatt solar power plant with 39,312 solar panels, in 2014. Clenera and Swinterton built the project on behalf of Centaurus Renewable Energy. The electricity is sold under a long-term power purchase agreement to the Indianapolis Power & Light Company. Centaurus sold the project to Boralex in 2020.

The Minnesota Vikings football team is buying renewable energy credits from wind farms to cover 100% of the electricity used in its US Bank Stadium. The team claims its stadium is the first stadium to be fully powered by wind energy. The team has also taken a series of other measures to reduce its energy costs by $1.26 million a year. They include using a transparent plastic polymer roof structure that allows natural daylight to light the stadium and allows heat to dissipate for cooling to reduce reliance on lighting and HVAC systems.

The Miami Heat basketball team installed a 24,000-square-foot so-lar canopy at its American Airlines Arena to reduce energy costs by $1.6 million a year. The canopy has 14 solar skylight rings with a combined capacity of 19 kilowatts. It covers an outdoor amenity space on the east end of the arena overlooking Biscayne Bay. A color-changing LED lighting system is concealed in the soffits of the skylights and produces changing light patterns.

Government Incentives

Some stadium owners may be tapping into section 179D tax deductions at the federal level and benefiting from public funding at the state level.

Section 179D of the US tax code provides a tax deduction for building owners and designers who implement energy-efficient systems and technologies in commercial buildings that are 25,000 square feet or larger.

Sports stadium owners can use this tax deduction to offset the costs of installing renewable energy systems such as solar panels, wind turbines, and geothermal systems. (They may also be able to claim fed-eral tax credits on new equipment to generate renewable electricity.)

Under section 179D, building owners could claim a tax deduction of up to $1.80 per square foot for qualifying energy-efficient improvements to lighting, HVAC systems and the building envelope. The Inflation Re-duction Act increased the deduction to as much as $5 a square foot.

In the case of sports stadiums, this tax deduction can be applied to renewable energy systems that contribute to the overall energy efficiency of the building. Previously, to qualify for the deduction, improvements had to reduce energy consumption by at least 50% compared to a reference building. The Inflation Reduction Act lowered the energy consumption reduction threshold to 25%.

Many sports stadiums receive large amounts of public funding for their construction and maintenance.

For example, Nashville and the state of Tennessee agreed in April 2023 to give the Tennessee Titans football team $1.26 billion to build a new riverfront stadium in Nashville.

Governments that fund stadiums are increasingly requiring the stadiums to use designs that qualify for LEED certification from the US Green Building Council. LEED is a voluntary non-government program that measures all aspects of the development, construction and operations. A facility can earn up to 110 points, over seven categories, based on its impact on climate change. It is rated for impacts, among other things, on human health, water resources, the "green economy," the local community and natural resources. Awarded points determine the level of LEED certification: certified (40-49 points), silver (50-59 points), gold (60-79 points) and platinum (80+ points).

Thirty-two stadiums in the US professional baseball, football, basketball, ice hockey and soccer leagues have been recognized by LEED. They represent 25% of the stadiums in those leagues.

Defending the Environment

Sports stadiums have a significant environmental impact due to their high energy consumption and carbon emissions. These massive facilities host thousands of spectators and require large amounts of electricity for light, HVAC and other equipment.

The average sporting event in a stadium uses enough energy to power 5,000 American households for a similar length of time.

Thousands of sporting events are hosted every year, and it is easy to see the tremendous amount of energy expended on them and potential carbon emissions. Renewable energy is being used to reduce the carbon footprint of many sports stadiums. Arena, which hosts games for the LA Lakers and LA Clippers basketball teams and the LA Kings ice hockey team, installed 1,727 solar panels that provide enough energy to reduce 10,000 tons of CO2 emissions. The stadium also established a bank of fuel cells that generate electricity onsite and will displace 1,100 tons of CO2 emissions over its lifetime.

Inuit Dome, the LA Clipper stadium currently under construction and set to open in 2024, plans on being the first climate-positive stadium. The stadium will use batteries and onsite solar power to run on 100% carbon-free power.

Footprint Center, home of the Phoenix Suns basketball team, in-stalled a 17,000-square-foot solar array on the roof, producing enough energy to eliminate 440,000 pounds of CO2 emissions annually.

The Baltimore Ravens football team installed 1,210 solar panels on its M&T Bank Stadium. The energy produced through the panels would cre-ate 317 tons of CO2 emissions annually if produced through nonrenewable energy sources. The equivalent carbon footprint is 13,000 tailgaters using propane grills.

The New England Patriots football team installed 3,000 solar panels on its stadium that generate 60% of the facility's energy needs. The solar system is expected to prevent the release of 8,800 metric tons of CO2 emissions over the next 20 years.

The San Diego Padres baseball team installed 716 solar panels on its stadium, Petco Park. The panels produce enough energy to offset 28 metric tons of CO2 emissions annually.

Power Play

Understanding state laws and regulations can provide teams with leverage to access renewable energy at competitive prices.

An example is Allegiant Stadium, home of the Las Vegas Raiders football team, which is set to become 100% powered by renewable energy in 2023 after three new solar farms are completed.

Legal maneuvering helped to reach this renewable energy milestone. The team used Nevada Revised Statutes Chapter 704B to opt out of the public utility company and purchase energy on the open market. This then opened the door to negotiations with multiple potential electricity providers and lowered the energy price through competition. The team eventually agreed to a 25-year contract with the local utility, NV Energy, at a lower price. The electricity NV Energy supplies comes from three new solar projects developed by independent power companies.

Light the Beam

The sports world is in a prime position to popularize renewable energy as it has the eyes and ears of the public.

Studies show that around 13% of Americans follow science and technology news, while 71% follow sports.

Golden 1 Arena, home of the Sacramento Kings basketball team, is the world's first sports stadium 100% powered by solar energy. The stadium has a large purple laser beam that lights the sky after every home win, creating a viral internet meme. Unaware that the laser uses around the same amount of energy as a household dishwasher, sports commentator Colin Cowherd attacked the beam saying it was an "egregious waste of energy." The backlash to Cowherd's comments went viral on social media. It led to discussions about energy use and Golden 1 Arena's use of renewable energy — an example of how sports can draw the attention of a broad audience to the transition to renewable energy.

Being seen as socially responsible and investing in renewable energy is also a good business practice for sports teams. In 2022, two-thirds of consumers said they were willing to pay more for a product they believed to be sustainable.

It also unlocks sponsorship offers from green-conscious companies that do not normally partner with sports teams. After announcing that its stadium would be 100% renewable energy, the Las Vegas Raiders had sponsors reach out to partner with it on deals worth millions of dollars.