Student teams from all over the world are protesting the U.S. Department of Interior’s decision to relocate the Department of Energy’s (DOE) Solar Decathlon 2011 from the National Mall to an alternate site.
The reason given for the venue change by the DOI is to avoid the impact the event will have on the Mall’s turf. The space allocated for the Decathlon represents less than 1/8 of the Mall’s grass lawn area however, and all 20 teams are contractually bound to assume the costs of re-sodding the Mall’s lawn and repairing any damage to the grounds.
The Decathlon is an award-winning juried competition that students to design, build and operate solar-powered houses that are affordable, energy efficient, and well designed.
“This decision is particularly unfortunate and surprising in light of the recent State of the Union address, in which President Obama stressed the critical importance of clean energy technologies, including solar-generated power, to America’s future and next generation of innovators.”said Elisabeth Neigert, a graduate student at the Southern California Institute of Architecture.
Neigert is acting as the spokesperson organizing and leading the protest on behalf of the more than 1,000 university students affected by the DOI’s decision.
“In addition, our Decathlon homes have been designed and engineered specifically to reside on the Mall,” said Neigert. “Redesigning them for a new location invalidates two years of planning, and will be very costly for the teams. Beyond that, displaying them on this very public and iconic site was an integral part of our goal to educate and inspire the public. That is now in jeopardy.”
While each competing team has been pledged a $100,000 grant from the DOE to be used toward their Decathlon project, each has already spent upwards of $1 million on the project, with much of the additional revenue obtained through fundraising efforts.
Neigert is actively soliciting support from members of both Houses of Congress – the U.S. Senate and the House of Representatives (signed letters as of 2/4/11) to assist the student teams in urging DOI Secretary Ken Salazar to reverse his decision to move the 2011 Solar Decathlon.
Neigert and the other students say they are baffled and disappointed by the DOI’s decision:
“At the very least, we would like an open and transparent discussion of the issue, said Neigert. “There is more at stake than the costs that will be incurred, by both the teams and the American taxpayers, to move the event. An important forum for sustainability and renewable energy education will be diminished, and the good will of participating universities, sponsors, and team supporters will be challenged.
All previous DOE Solar Decathlons have taken place on the National Mall and have attracted more than 300,000 people to view the homes and learn more about solar power, sustainability, and green construction.
Secretary of Energy Steven Chu poses for a photo with Team California in front of its solar-powered house during the U.S. Department of Energy Solar Decathlon 2009 on the National Mall in Washington, D.C., Tuesday, Oct. 07, 2009.
(Credit: Stefano Paltera/U.S. Department of Energy Solar Decathlon)