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Super Bowl Evades Indiana’s Coal Power Blitz

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Photo by Ben Liebenberg/NFL

It could easily have been one of the most fossil fuel-intensive Super Bowls ever.

Not only did the New York Giants and the New England Patriots face off in Lucas Oil Stadium, named for a petroleum motor lubricant company, but the facility’s bright stadium lights, signature retractable roof and giant screens all draw energy from one of the most coal-dependent grids in the United States.

Indiana gets more than 95 percent of its electricity from coal power plants, far above the U.S. average of less than 50 percent.

But the National Football League contracted with Green Mountain Energy Company to purchase 15,000 megawatt hours of renewable energy certificates (RECs) to offset the greenhouse gas emissions around Super Bowl XLVI. That’s not only the electricity that will be used during the game, but all the power consumed in the entire month leading up to the event at the stadium, the Indiana Convention Center (site of an NFL theme park), the media center, NFL headquarters, and the AFC and NFC team hotels.

The purchase of these certificates don’t mean that coal won’t be burned to provide that power, but renewable electricity elsewhere will be purchased. An REC is a market-based commodity that is designed to ease the buying and selling of renewable energy, free of the constraints of the electricity grid. So even though there’s not enough solar and wind on the Indiana grid to directly power the Super Bowl, it’s a way to purchase renewable energy for the event indirectly.

The NFL and Green Mountain did not release the amount of money spent on the deal, but at the average U.S. residential price of electricity, that’s about $1.5 million worth of power. (Renewable electricity is typically more expensive than the average U.S. energy mix.) Looked at another way, it’s about as much electricity as 1,300 average U.S. households use in a year.

As we wrote at the time of last year’s Super Bowl and the start of this football season, the NFL has been working to green its operations, especially in showcase renewable energy projects at some stadiums. (See “Pictures: Kickoff Time for Green Stadiums” and “Pictures: The NFL Makes a Play for Renewable Energy”) But the power consumed in the stadium is only a portion of the energy associated with big sporting events. Fan travel gobbles energy, as this report on the 2010 FIFA World Cup in South Africa detailed.

But even the fans enjoying the game at home are burning energy. This “Big Game, Big Screens, Big Power” infographic from GE Energy attempts to measure just a portion of that power. The electricity consumed by the estimated number of TVs in the United States that will be turned to the game (for an average of five hours) adds up to 13,310 megawatts, enough to power all the homes in Green Bay, Dallas and Pittsburgh for 10 hours, GE calculates.

And we’re likely to draw on electricity even more to enjoy sports in the future. This was the first Super Bowl to be streamed live online and to smart phones. Since we all are becoming more and more dependent upon electricity, what are the ways that we, not just football leagues, could reduce and offset the greenhouse gas emissions embedded in our lifestyles?

(Related: 360º Energy Diet)