NASCAR Track Puts Solar Power in the Pole Position

nascarI’m going to go out on a limb here and say that the overlap between NASCAR fans and environmentalists is not large. But now they’ve got at least one shared topic of conversation:

Pennsylvania’s Pocono Raceway, which hosts two NASCAR events each year, plans to build a three megawatt solar power plant to provide the track with electricity.

At three megawatts, it would be the world’s biggest solar energy project at a sports facility, and Pennsylvania’s largest to date (at least two other 3 mW farms in PA are in earlier stages of development).

The plan is to place about 40,000 photovoltaic panels on a 25-acre former parking lot next to the raceway. A ribbon cutting ceremony was held Friday, before the Sunoco Red Cross Pennsylvania 500. The solar farm should be completed by Spring 2010, according to Pocono Raceway’s president, Brandon Igdalsky.

Igdalsky said the idea came up when the track discovered their electric bill could rise 40% due to deregulation. While the farm itself will cost between $15 and $17 million, the raceway should have no trouble eventually recouping the cost, and plans to sell excess electricity produced by the farm to regional transmission organization PJM Interconnection. Renewable energy firm enXco is constructing the field, in association with Evolution Energies, a green consulting firm.

Solar often makes the most sense for large commercial operations like the raceway, which have no intention of moving, and are capable of coughing up the large up-front costs of installation.

According to an article in the New York Times sports section, other sports sites that use solar energy include: Taiwan’s National Stadium, AT&T Park in San Francisco, Progressive Field in Cleveland and the Stade de Suisse Wankdorf in Bern, Switzerland. London is building a wind turbine to help power the 2012 Olympic games.

Loud and Dirty

Pocono’s decision is a green publicity boon for NASCAR, a sport not traditionally associated with clean technology.

NASCAR racecars get between 3 and 5 mpg or at best one eighth the future standard for passengers cars of 39 mpg. Various estimates put the total CO2 output of the sport in the US at around 4300 metric tons a year – a miniscule amount in the grand scheme of things, but much higher per car than passenger vehicles (and of course dirtier than cycling or basketball).

For years, environmentalists needled the racing organization about its use of leaded gas (auto racing is exempt from certain clean-air laws), and in 2006, after extensive testing, NASCAR announced it would begin using unleaded fuel by 2008.

Indy race cars, meanwhile, began using 100% ethanol-based fuel in 2008.

See Also:

How Auto Racing is Greening Up Its Image

NASCAR Racing Fuel-Economy Tactics

BC (Ben) Upham is a freelance writer based in Los Angeles. He has written for the New York Times, and was a writer and editor for News Communications, Inc., a local paper consortium serving Manhattan. When he's not blogging on green issues -- and especially renewable energy -- he's hiking in the Angeles Mountains or hanging out at El Matador.

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