Solar Panels Installed at Vaught-Hemingway Stadium at Ole Miss

The Rebels of Ole Miss generate plenty of electricity when they run onto the field at Vaught-Hemingway Stadium.

More than 42,000 fans stream through the turnstiles on football game days, to cheer on their local heroes in the warmth of bright and sunny fall afternoons.

It's that sort of buzz that the Tennessee Valley Authority hoped to capture when it listed the stadium among its potential test sites for its new Green Power initiative, a pilot project unveiled in 1998 in which solar panels will be installed at a number of high-profile venues. (Electricity generated at the sites will be sent straight to the main grid, not used at the test sites.) Wanting both to gauge solar power's demand among potential customers and to demonstrate its viability in an educational setting, the TVA urged its 10 participating distributors to look to high schools and universities, particularly places where people gather in large numbers.

"We were looking for places that offer educational opportunities and are highly visible," says TVA spokesperson Barbara Martocci. Thus, Vaught-Hemingway Stadium and a Gibson County, Tenn., high school were listed along with a theme park, a science museum and several libraries.

If the goings-on at the University of Mississippi are any indication, more than just sunlight will be necessary to give the initiative a spark. For starters, university staff remained in the dark for months after the university's participation was announced. "This is the first I've heard about it," Eddie Crawford, senior associate athletic director in charge of development, told AB in January. Added Bill Anderson, the university's physical plant and construction manager, "I think it must be a dream, because I certainly don't know anything about it, nor do I know anybody on campus who knows anything about it."

Part of the confusion may have stemmed from the fact that two different but overlapping entities, the city utility in Oxford and an Oxford-based cooperative, Northeast Mississippi Electric Power, are participating in the TVA program. Bob Collier, Northeast's general manager, says also that the choice of Vaught-Hemingway was premature at best. "We wanted to put the panels at Vaught, but there wasn't a place big enough for them," Collier says. "We ended up moving all around campus looking at sites."

Happily, the outlook is now sunnier. Collier reported in March that although a contract has not been signed, the university's varsity baseball diamond, Swayze Field (which it shares with the city of Oxford), will be home to the panels by later this spring. Panels will run the length of the roof that protects spectators both from inclement weather and solar radiation.

That will make them big enough to be seen by families parking their RVs at the adjacent football game-day parking lot. Otherwise, signs will alert Swayze users-from fans of Ole Miss baseball and Oxford Little League to wide-eyed viewers of the city's July 4th fireworks display-of the panels' presence right over their heads. "I wanted to put them out in left field where everybody could see them, about 440 feet from home plate, and then any batter who could hit them would get a reward," says Collier. "But you know, it costs way too much to replace them."