In a season that has already seen Michigan Stadium draw a record 114,804 fans to its first night game, 3,053 individuals have signed a petition calling for solar panels to be installed at The Big House.
Created by the Ann Arbor-based Ecology Center, the campaign calls for Michigan to follow the lead of National Football League franchises such as the Philadelphia Eagles that have retrofitted their facilities with green technologies. "The UM stadium has the potential to be the largest athletic venue in North America with solar panels, which is fitting with the university's claim to be 'the leaders and the best,' " Ecology Center policy specialist Monica Patel states in a press release issued today. "Even though the electricity generated won't solve the climate crisis, it will go a long way in terms of solar energy education - just think of the awareness raised among the 100,000-plus fans there on game day, and millions of others who tune in. The move would also give real support to Michigan's growing solar energy industry."
According to the actual petition letter, 121 solar-power supply company chain businesses exist in the state, providing more than 6,300 jobs. "As an alumnus of UM, I was always taught to think of us as the leaders and best, and not just for sports," writes Anthony King, UM alum and Ann Arbor resident, on Change.org, where the petition lives. "Here is an opportunity for sports and the social and academic side of the university to work together, and set an example for the nation."
The petition asks university leadership to announce a commitment to solar energy tomorrow, at UM's annual EarthFest. One immediate question is how the stadium - one of the last true seating bowls left, with scant skyward-facing infrastructure - would even accommodate solar panels. Rob Rodemacher, Michigan's associate athletic director for facilities and operations, tells AB that the big hindrance to such a project is financial, not physical, feasibility. Turns out Michigan officials have done their homework.
A recent university sustainability study found that equipping the stadium with solar panels would cost $585,000 up front and $25,000 in annual maintenance. It would save less than $8,000 a year, with an estimated payback period of 77 years. Moreover, the estimated electricity savings of 78,577 kilowatt hours per year would offset the annual consumption of 6.3 average households. "It just doesn't make sense for that amount of money," Rodemacher says.
Regardless of what transpires Tuesday, campaign staff will continue to collect petition signatures at Wolverines home games throughout the season. "What these activists have accomplished is really impressive," says Jess Leber, a senior organizer for Change.org, the world's fastest-growing platform for social change. "In just a few weeks, the Ecology Center has inspired thousands of University of Michigan community members to make their voices heard on solar energy."