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“A Fuel-Belching Nascar Track Has Big Plans for Solar Power” — Greenwashing or not?

By Joe Romm on August 1, 2009 at 8:56 am

"“A Fuel-Belching Nascar Track Has Big Plans for Solar Power” — Greenwashing or not?"

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Question of the week:  Is this greenwashing a highly polluting sport — or an important act and useful message from a key segment of society needed to eventually achieve the full clean energy transformation?  Related question:  Will NASCAR exist in its current form in a couple of decades when the global Ponzi scheme collapses and oil is over $200 a barrel?

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Pocono Raceway, which hosts two Nascar Sprint Cup races each year, plans to construct the world’s largest solar energy project at a sports facility….

Mike Lynch, who joined Nascar in October as managing director of green innovation, said the Pocono solar farm would set a standard for sports.

“We have a power footprint that can be addressed with renewable energy,” he said. “We see the Pocono project as one that’s a fantastic example of how it can be done.”

So the NYT report Thursday in “A Fuel-Belching Nascar Track Has Big Plans for Solar Power.”  Certainly it’s much better that they are doing this than not — and this isn’t a rip-offset REC purchase (see “Schendler II: Good RECs vs. Bad RECs“). Here’s more of the story:

“I think it’s unique,” Pocono Raceway’s president, Brandon Igdalsky, said in a telephone interview this week. “I think that the fact that it’s a raceway that’s going to be the sports facility that’s really going to go all out and do this, I think it definitely puts us in a league of our own.”

About 40,000 photovoltaic panels are to be installed on 25 acres across the street from the racetrack on property that had been used as a parking lot for races. The solar farm is expected to generate three megawatts once it is completed, in spring 2010, making it Pennsylvania’s largest such facility, Igdalsky said. The project is expected to cost $15 million to $17 million but more than pay for itself over time.

A number of prominent sports sites use solar energy, including Taiwan’s National Stadium, which recently hosted the World Games; AT&T Park, home of the San Francisco Giants; Progressive Field, home of the Cleveland Indians; and the Stade de Suisse Wankdorf in Bern, Switzerland.

But Pocono’s solar farm could generate the most power by far. Igdalsky said the track decided to go this route when deregulation threatened to raise the track’s annual power bills by nearly 40 percent, to as much as $500,000.

“We needed a way “” how can we save the most money on our power usage?” Igdalsky said. “It’s good for us. It’s good for the environment. It’s good for the community.”

Pocono Raceway officials anticipate generating considerable money each year “” in the “seven figures,” Igdalsky said “” by selling the energy produced to PJM Interconnection, a regional transmission organization that operates a wholesale electricity market and grid.

Generating solar energy at sports facilities appears to be catching on. Christopher Moffatt, a founder of Evolution Energies, a solar development company that worked with Pocono Raceway, said in an e-mail message that the company was involved with several professional and college football teams looking at similar options for their stadiums. Some arenas that host N.H.L. teams are also discussing the concept.

That could mean more work for enXco, the French-owned company that is finishing plans to build the solar farm at Pocono. The same company is building a solar facility for the Long Island Power Authority and is involved in several projects in New Jersey.

“That’s the first time we’ve had a request from a racetrack; I was quite surprised,” said Tristan Grimbert, the president and chief executive of enXco. “I think it’s a promising market.”

Nascar, which markets a gas-powered sport, has begun several programs to help the environment, including a project to plant 20 acres of trees a year at racetracks to help offset carbon dioxide emissions.

Tree planting doesn’t impress me, since the CO2 belched from cars and power plants has mean lifetime in the atmosphere of thousands of years (see “Carbon is forever: Fossil CO2 impacts will outlast Stonehenge and nuclear waste“).  But 40,000 PV panels is a different matter.  What do you think?

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17 Responses to “A Fuel-Belching Nascar Track Has Big Plans for Solar Power” — Greenwashing or not?

  1. paulm says:

    What about skiing?

  2. Bob Wright says:

    Maybe NASCAR should start a hybrid division? Ford’s Fusion might be almost identical on the outside, but it might be hard to do a Prius.

  3. Marcus says:

    As far as a “highly polluting sport”: how much fuel is burned by the cars on the racetrack compared to the cars driven to the stadium? This is an honest question: I don’t know the answer. I know for sports like football + baseball, transport to and from the stadium is usually considered the largest environmental impact by a large margin. Obviously, NASCAR is a very different beast, but… how different? How many miles do the NASCAR vehicles travel in total?

  4. hapa says:

    it looks like greening but it’s really more like hanging billboards at the track or hosting other events: adding a revenue stream to the facility. why might they be looking for new revenue? it COULD be related to why this track just repurposed 25 acres of parking. check out “nascar attendance” in your favorite web search. NYT reporter missed critical part of story.

    as a test bed for auto tech racing’s pretty good. i’m surprised the editor didn’t add something about F1 racing and “flybrids” — the NYT sports pages is where i learned about that.

    if they’re losing attendance, lowering the audience’s footprint won’t be a high priority to them, except maybe in helping people carpool, when gas prices are higher. (i’m reasonably sure that the two oil moments in the 1970s killed car racing as a spectator sport in california.)

  5. Sarah Terry-Cobo says:

    is NASCAR greenwashing? maybe. Do most NASCAR fans really care how “green” their sport is? probably not. There are so many non-green aspects of the sport, where do you begin? Of course there’s the fuel, then there’s the burning rubber and number of tires each car uses per race (they changed several times throughout), the disposable nature of the car’s body (needs to be lightweight for speed purposes), and not to mention the tailgating that goes on in the lot outside.

    I would be interested in how much pollution comes from a typical stock car, compared to a regular car though. I would suspect there might even be fewer SOx and NOx pollutants, considering the fact that the super-high octane fuel (usually around 200 octane, compared to the 87-92 octane we put in regular cars) generally burns cleaner and because the engines are more likely to have “complete combustion” to be competitive (complete combustion means fewer pollutants).

    There are instances of eco-friendly versions of race cars (not the stock cars used in NASCAR however), that use biofuels made from food waste. http://www.informationweek.com/news/showArticle.jhtml?articleID=217300279

    I doubt that a hybrid-version of a NASCAR race would ever take off–the hybrid engine kicks in when you are braking, plus the engines must use manual transmission so the driver can control the shifting of the gears–this option is not available on most hybrid models I’ve seen.

    And while I commend Formula 1 for flywheel energy storage, http://cr4.globalspec.com/thread/33218/Flybrid-System-s-Torotrak-CVT some die-hard NASCAR fans would only laugh. F1 is considered a wussy sport by comparison.

    However, there could be an opportunity here to create real advances in clean technology as it relates to internal combustion engines. Competition to be better, leaner and faster could push teams to engineer better performing (ie fewer air pollutant-producing) vehicles. That is of course, if the new designs conform to NASCAR regulations.

  6. crf says:

    This isn’t totally greenwashing. Maybe half-half. It deserves praise, I think.

    An industry like Nascar, which has cash, and public exposure, has a duty to set a good example. And that is what it is doing. Green power is more expensive than fossil fuel power, so I don’t begrudge them at all trying recoup some of that investment in a bit of PR.

    Also, while the sport itself uses a lot of fuel, it also has the opportunity expensive things like biofuels, because the marginal cost of fuel in its business is pretty small. Increasing the price it pays for fuel even a substantial amount would raise its overall costs only a comparatively small proportion.

    Finally Nascar is entertainment only. A luxury. It has ample opportunity to shrink its overall energy footprint, and the funds to do it (small ticket price increases would provide revenue to accomplish a lot). Society shouldn’t really be so picky about how people have fun, on rare occasions. More of a focus should be placed on the everyday use and waste of energy.

  7. hapa says:

    sarah terry-cobo: “some die-hard NASCAR fans would only laugh. F1 is considered a wussy sport by comparison.”

    yeah well, things change. once upon a time you could have been shot for advocating japanese teams in NASCAR.

    NASCAR’s attendance drop is probably also related to the housing bust — another way that money isn’t flowing to the countryside like it was a couple years ago. so then what, faster migration into the city? in the great depression there were many new manufacturing jobs being created. what’s the reason to leave now, to get a degree in nursing, and use it?

    i wonder if this will mean more NASCAR on television. “a new focus on telecommuting.”

  8. Lewis says:

    I don’t think it is greenwashing. They saw a way to save on their energy and create an income stream from it. They are not using it in a ‘see we’re green’ way. Also I wouldn’t put this on NASCAR. This is the track owners making this decision. Frankly I suspect the NASCAR officials had very little input into this.

    I would also note that it is one of the northern most of the NASCAR tracks making this move and not one of the bible belt tracks.

    As the old man said as he peed into the sea, “Every little bit helps.” And they at the very least should not be criticized for this move.

  9. Omega Centuri says:

    I really don’t care if a substantial part of the motivation is green-washing, putting up the panels should be judged on its own merits. And these are a few fold, most obviously is the savings of fossil fuels to generate the electricity. Secondarily since PV is still an immature industry, any extra demand can only help it to grow. Probably most importantly, a large fan base, with a generally anti-environmental attitude,is shown that solar power can make sense.

    Yes, If I were given the powers of an angry god, terrible things would happen to the participants and fans of these sports. But that’s just not going to happen. In the meantime the opportunity to make these folk slightly more environmentally conscious should not be missed.

    In any case, I suspect the damage done by the actual competition activities is probably pretty small. Clearly more fuel is consumed transporting the fans -or probably even transporting the race cars and teams to/from the event, than the actual race cars themselves consume. Were all the race cars replaced with solar charged electric vehicles,I doubt the (per fan) environmental footprint would be substantially reduced. The problem with these events, is not the events themselves, but rather the lifestyle choices that are promoted by them.

  10. darth says:

    Perhaps NASCAR can adapt and start an all electric racing division?

  11. joyce says:

    I think it’s terrific–and as someone before me stated, should be judged on it’s own merit.

    While I don’t know much about NASCAR techology or what they’re about, I do know a little about international teams such as the Formula 1, and they’re whole mission is to create the lightest, toughest car that uses the least fuel (as they don’t want the extra weight of fuel) which drives them to discover new ways and techologies that eventually would help with fuel efficiency with any car.

    Interestingly, if you google “Ferrari” and “green” or “environment” or some such combination, you will find that they have won awards for their efforts in combatting climate change, in their factories, energy efficient building & alternataive energy use. I sort of stumbled on that a year or so ago, and since then, I’ve tried very hard to stop judging.

    We need all the help from everyone who can–and those engineers, if on board, could help a lot. Stereotyping gets people nowhere, and stops meaningful dialogue dead in its tracks… (pun intended.)

  12. anonymous says:

    Or maybe they can race solar cars instead.

  13. Lamont says:

    As long as we fix everything else, there’s no reason why we can’t keep NASCAR the way it is.

    Deprivation diets don’t work, we need to allow ourselves a little dessert.

    And politically it’d be completely tone-deaf to start making NASCAR racing the poster issue over greenhouse gases — you make more enemies than friends that way. Fix the electric grid, fix long haul trucking and fix the passenger car issues.