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Can sustainable stadiums be a better deal for cities and environment?

D.C. United’s forthcoming soccer field, funded in part with a green loan, offers more than a place to play

D.C. United’s Stadium

Stadiums, specifically when it comes to funding and construction, can often be bad deals for cities. Many studies and reports have argued that publicly subsidizing new and expanded stadiums often isn’t a good deal for the public.

In Washington, D.C., a new project suggests there many be other, more sustainable ways to help finance new stadiums that offer additional benefits beyond a new place to play.

The District’s Major League Soccer team, D.C. United, broke ground on a new 20,000-seat stadium, Audi Field, earlier this year in the Buzzard Point neighborhood, buoyed in part by a $25 million private clean energy financing deal. The $120 million project, which also relies on a $95 million loan from Goldman Sachs, will include a 884-kilowatt solar array, a stormwater retention system, and a variety of smaller energy and water efficient technologies.

This isn’t just a green version of window dressing: the solar arrays, which will be installed by local firm New Columbia Solar, will provide roughly one million kilowatt hours of solar power each year, enough to cover roughly a third of the stadium’s projected energy bill. In addition, the other green retrofits will cut energy use by a quarter and decrease carbon emissions by 820 metric tons, the same as taking 173 cars off the road. D.C. United will save an estimated $125,000 annually on utility bills.

In a statement, D.C. Mayor Muriel Bowser said that, “this deal will not only allow us to green Audi Field, it will also create new opportunities for local businesses and high-quality green jobs for DC residents.”

The $25 million in green funding comes from the Department of Energy and Environment’s Property Assessed Clean Energy program, a key part of D.C.’s efforts to cuts its energy use in half by 2032 while increasing its use of renewable power by 50 percent. Overseen by locally-based EagleBank, the deal is nation’s largest single PACE note, and the first for a stadium. In short, the program allows the property to receive a special, more favorable assessment that helps them secure a more favorable, long-term financing deal.

Clearly, this type of stadium funding can’t solve every problem that plagues stadium owners, who may want more seating capacity, or need to upgrade their facility with more modern amenities (and Audi Field has had a number of other issues with the community, including questions about early designs and gentrification). But in the long run, funding these types of designs or retrofits saves owners money, may prolong the useful life of an existing stadium, helps cities cut emissions, and sets an example for other projects in the community (In less than two years, the DC PACE program has provided $30 million in private capital for projects including small businesses, affordable multifamily housing, and a charter school).

From the new football stadium in Minneapolis and the under-construction Rams field in Los Angeles to Sacramento’s Golden 1 Center, sustainability and renewable energy are becoming core, cost-saving parts of the design of new stadiums. It would be great to see more and more team owners adopt a greener focus for renovations and retrofits, and cities tying energy efficiency and sustainability to funding and financial support. Those large stadium roofs would look a lot better with rows of solar arrays, anyway.