By Kindler (please visit my Substack here)
The proposed plan to build a new arena for the Washington Wizards and Capitals at the Potomac Yard site in Alexandria, Virginia raises a host of questions – most of which I will NOT be addressing here. I have just one point to make: Democrats in the General Assembly, on whose approval this deal rests, must require upfront that the project be designed, constructed and operated to be carbon neutral.
A Carbon-Neutral Arena – What and Why
What does that term mean? That this massive project adopt market-leading clean energy practices to ensure that it does not release one ton more greenhouse gases than it produces.
Impossible, you say? Don’t tell that to Seattle, where the Amazon-funded Climate Pledge Arena achieved a stringent Zero Carbon Certification back in 2021 for its innovative practices in sourcing renewable energy, eliminating gas burning appliances and systems and incorporating efficient design and practices throughout.
Why burden this project with such a challenging demand, critics will ask? Well, because the alternative is continuing to burden our children and future generations with an increasingly unlivable planet. Have you not noticed all the unnatural weather phenomena that none of us grew up with?
Wildfire smoke drifting down from Canada severely enough to impact air quality in the Northeast is new. Weather forecasters having to come up with new colors on the map to routinely indicate summer temperatures well over 100 degrees is new. Hurricanes stalling and dumping up to 50 inches of rain at a time over an area is new. Extreme weather phenomena like superstorms, atmospheric rivers and derechos are new.
And we are only at the beginning of a climate crisis going increasingly out of control – but whose trajectory we can limit if we drastically reduce our greenhouse gas emissions. Huge projects like this proposed arena/entertainment center are very important opportunities to demonstrate how a metropolitan area can be a true leader at staving off the worst of climate change.
How to Make it Happen
A stadium deal requires approval by the General Assembly, both Houses of which we just flipped to Democratic control. Which means that now is the moment when we have maximum leverage to influence this deal to reflect our values and needs. The team owners, who have gone out on a limb to propose this deal with so many details yet to be worked out, are more likely now than at any time to concede to achievable requirements even if it means a little more work and investment on their part.
And no, just accepting some wishy-washy promise to do sustainable stuff is no longer acceptable. The truth is that the strong medicine of requiring that this project be carbon neutral, period, will put Northern Virginia in the vanguard of an increasingly mainstream and popular movement to reduce the massive carbon and environmental footprints of sports complexes and events.
There are many examples out there that Monumental Sports and Entertainment, the owners of the Washington Capitals and Wizards, can draw from, including:
- Seattle’s Climate Pledge Arena (home of the Seattle Kraken and Storm) chose electric over gas-burning alternatives for all of its major systems – not only its heating and dehumidification but even its Zamboni! While it was limited from maximizing its roof space for solar photovoltaic (PV) panels by historic preservation standards, it still managed to site 440,000 kw of solar at its parking garage and atrium and purchases the rest of the renewable energy needed to meet its carbon neutral certification. The company provides fans free public transit rides with their ticket purchases and has eliminated single use plastics from sales in the arena.
- Sacramento’s Golden Center (home of the Sacramento Kings) by contrast, was able to use its ample roof space to install a 1.2-megawatt solar array, supplemented by an 11-megawatt solar farm 40 miles away to cover 100% of its power needs. It also reduced its power needs with an innovative displacement ventilation system that directs heating, cooling and ventilation to the customers who need it rather than squandering it across vast empty spaces. There is even an app for fans to report if they’re too hot or cold, allowing for adjustment to meet user needs in real time.
- Toronto’s Scotiabank Arena (home of the Raptors and Maple Leafs) takes advantage of a deep-lake water cooling system that brings the natural cooling power of nearby Lake Ontario to the facility, thereby eliminating the need for and power draw of air conditioning compressors.
- Atlanta’s Mercedes Benz Stadium (home of Atlanta United and the Falcons) is the first sports stadium to receive the Total Resource Use and Efficiency (TRUE) Platinum certification for its zero waste achievements.
While climate geeks talk about cutting “Scope 1 emissions” (GHG emissions from on-site combustion, so mainly replacing natural gas appliances and systems with electric) and “Scope 2 emissions” (the indirect emissions from providing electricity to a site), let’s talk about the everything else category, “Scope 3” – because it covers the most important issue for most people about this project, making sure it avoids creating traffic nightmares.
The Potomac Yard site has some alternative transportation options upon which it can build, including a Metro station and a bus rapid transit system. I think that even the DC to Alexandria Water Taxi should be looked into as a transportation option, if paired with shuttle buses to the site. But all of these options would need to be greatly expanded to avoid overburdening already busy and inadequate thoroughfares in the area, including Route 1, Glebe Road and Interstate 395 as well as the Beltway. Transportation will be key to whether this project succeeds and fails, as well as to a major portion of its carbon impacts.
Bottom line, I strongly encourage Virginia Democrats to draw a line in the sand and demand that this proposed new stadium, if it is built, be a leader in decarbonization and not just another exasperating missed opportunity. Let’s leave a legacy for our children that enhances their life and wellbeing while we still have the chance.