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Green Building News

Solar Decathlon Will Stay in DC

With contestants unhappy about last month’s decision to move the energy-efficient house competition to another city, the Interior Department decides an alternate location on the mall will work

The competition will be held in Washington, DC, after all. Final details are still being worked out, but the Solar Decathlon’s new site on the National Mall will be near the Franklin Delano Roosevelt Memorial, just north of the Potomac River shoreline.
Image Credit: Department of the Interior and Department of Energy

After more than a month of anxiety and disappointment over the Department of Energy’s decision to move the Solar Decathlon from its original location on the National Mall in Washington, D.C., to another site, and perhaps another city in the U.S., Decathlon participants learned this week that the DOE will keep the event on the mall after all, at an alternate location known as West Potomac Park.

In many ways West Potomac Park – a stretch of peninsula just southeast of the Franklin Delano Roosevelt Memorial and north of the Potomac River waterfront – is more scenic than the central open area on the mall where, beginning in 2002, the first four Solar Decathlons were held. The new location is typically a little breezier, but, as the Department of the Interior and the DOE pointed out in a press release this week, it will still allow the 20 student teams competing in the Decathlon to pursue their original contest strategies for home designs – which had been specifically tailored for Washington’s latitude, temperature, and humidity conditions – while they maintain their fundraising momentum, much of which had been tied to the prestige of presenting net-zero-energy, solar-powered homes in a city where tourists, government officials, and industry leaders routinely converge.

A welcome compromise

The DOE’s decision to move the Decathlon, scheduled for September 22 through October 2, was intended to accommodate a National Park Service restoration program that is designed to improve and protect the mall, but both its timing and logic were immediately called into question by fans of the event and, of course, by the teams, whose projects were already in or nearing the construction stage and included innumerable site-specific calculations.

Protests against the prospective relocation came from other quarters as well, including politicians who support Decathlon goals and drew on President Obama’s references to the importance of clean-energy research in his State of the Union address, and even editorial commentary from sources as far flung as the U.K.-based International Business Times, which on February 22 published an essay calling the rationale for moving the Decathlon off the mall specious, particularly in light of the fact that other events, namely the two-day National Book Fair, will be allowed to occupy the mall in late September as originally planned.

In any case, the event’s reinstatement on the mall came as a relief, and an indication that displeasure with the proposed relocation wasn’t misplaced.

“I think the protests had a lot to do with it, particularly getting senators and representatives to step up, which they did quite willingly. New Jersey Senator Robert Menendez took a leading role in that; he rallied his peers,” Clinton Andrews, a professor at the E.J. Bloustein School of Planning and Public Policy at Rutgers University, told “Grassroots political action is still effective in certain ways.”


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