7 Feb 2011

Push is strenthening to keep 2011 U.S. Solar Decathlon on National Mall

Written by Jim Pierobon

Might the National Park Service have double-booked the Mall for the weekend of Sept. 24-25?

A master plan to rejuvenate the lawn and walkways on the U.S. National MallĀ  does NOT stand in the way of the long-ago scheduled 2011 Solar Decathlon solar advocates are learning today. And they are pressing hard this week through Congress and the Obama Administration to keep the Decathlon there, in Washington, DC, at least for this Fall (Sept. 23-Oct 1).

Students involved in this year’s Decathlon, which pitches teams of college-age student engineers and architects to design the most cost-effective and water- and energy-efficient home, had been counting on the Mall’s location for the unique way it draws hundreds of thousands of interested students, policymakers, educators and the public-at-large. But the Obama Administration upendded the traditionĀ  without identifying a new site (TheEnergyFix,January 13, 2011) . At this writing an alternative site had yet to be announced.

Rep. Ed Markey (D-Mass.), ranking member on the House of Representatives’ Natural Resources Committee, asserted the decision not to allow the Solar Decathlon to return for a fifth time to a portion of the Mall was “shortsighted” and should be reversed, according to a report today in E&E Publishing’s Energy and Environment Daily newsletter (subscription required).

“It may have appeared that holding the event on the mall this year was at odds with restoring the turf as outlined in the mall plan,” said a letter to Interior Secretary Ken Salazar signed by Markey and 10 other House Democrats. “But recent developments make clear no conflict exists.”

Markey said National Park Service’s plans to restore turf on the 684-acre park are not to begin until well after this year’s Decathlon.

“Part of the Decathlon’s allure is that it takes place in our nation’s capitol and no other city would allow participation by the administrators and policy-makers charged with implementing our national energy policy,” the lawmakers said.

Elisabeth Neigert, a Masters candidate who is on the Decathlon team assembled by the California Institute of Technology and serves as the spokesperson for all the Decathlon teams, explained “there is more at stake than the costs that will be incurred, by both the teams and the American taxpayers, to move the event.”

The stakes include diminishing the impact and access of an important showcase for affordable sustainability, renewable energy education and the good will of the participating universities, sponsors and other team supporters.

Kendra Barkoff, an Interior spokeswoman, defended the decision to keep the decathlon off “America’s Front Yard” to E&E Publishing.

“Improving the condition and management of the National Mall will require tough choices if we are to find the right balance that meets the high expectations Americans have for their Mall,” Barkoff said.

That sentiment was echoed Saturday in a Washington Post editorial titled “Give the Mall a Rest.” While calling the decathlon “terrific,” the Post supported the federal government’s decision to keep it off the mall. The newspaper likened the situation to owning a property that has finally been repaired after years of neglect, “but there’s a clamor for you to host guests whose wear and tear would badly undermine that work and further degrade the property.”

Or DOES a conflict exist? Turns out the Library of Congress National Book Fair is scheduled for the first Decathlon weekend, Sept. 24. It’s expected to draw more than 130,000 visitors. Might someone have double-booked the mall?

Stay tuned.

The two light blocks (left of center) on this portion of the National Mall were set for the 2011 Solar Decathlon Sept. 23-Oct. 1. White line across the top is Independence Avenue; white line across bottom is Constitution Avenue. Image courtesy of Elisabeth Neigert, Caltech 2011 Solar Decathlon team.

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