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Solar Decathlon fights for the Mall

Article Published: Feb. 24, 2011 | Modified: Sep. 7, 2011
Solar Decathlon fights for the Mall

An artist's rendering depicts ASU's Solar Homestead on the National Mall in Washington, D.C. The group's permit was recently denied by park officials, prompting organizers to contact their representatives in Congress and the U.S. Senate. Image courtesy of

Appalachian State University's Solar Decathlon is up and running at the Mack Brown building on U.S. 421, but on a national scale, the project has hit a snafu.

Traditionally held at Washington, D.C.'s National Mall, the Solar Decathlon is getting some heat from park officials who denied its permit. This may mean the decathlon will have to change its location, but not if people like ASU project planner Dave Lee have anything to say about it.

He and his cohorts have launched an aggressive Facebook, letter writing and petition campaign to change officials' minds.

"We have been working hard to get back on the National Mall," he said. "It's been tough, but it's been exciting."

And local representatives have helped. U.S. Sen. Kay Hagan signed a senate letter in defense of the Solar Decathlon, and U.S. Sen. Richard Burr is writing his own letter. Additionally, U.S. Rep. Virginia Foxx's office confirmed she's writing a letter of her own and plans to collect signatures from other North Carolina offices. A contact within Foxx's office said it's his understanding the ASU Solar Decathlon team was the only group whose permit was denied from the National Mall.

"They told us parks revoked its permission because of damages done to the mall during the decathlon," Lee said.

But the decathlon comes before an already planned $18 million mall restoration plan, he said, which will include grass repairs.

"And, in the Solar Decathlon contract, each team is liable for damage," he said.

And an alternate location? It's not good enough, he said.

"The National Mall is the symbolic heart of the nation," he said. "It's the front yard of the nation. It's the most visible, prominent spot in D.C. ... There's no better way to show that as a country, not just for ASU, we're being leaders in energy efficient renewable energy design."

Earlier this month, officials announced a Book Day celebration on the mall that would overlap with the project. Still, Lee's optimistic. "They're supposed to make an announcement soon," he said.
And Solar Decathlon is a big deal, he said.

Out of all the applicants, 20 university plans were accepted from around the world, including the plans from Appalachian State University. The goal? To create a sustainable structure that's as functional and cost effective as it is environmentally savvy. The time frame? Less than a year.

While they started the actual construction in January, plans have been in the works well more than a year, with classes at ASU devoted to prepping the application and blueprints.

"We created and submitted a plan that was 30 pages long," Lee said, and it was the culmination of hours of work, both by grad students like himself, and undergrads.

Luckily, the work paid off, and ASU became the only school in North Carolina whose plans were accepted for the competitive Solar Decathlon.

For updates on ASU's project, called the Solar Homestead, check out
The competition happens, lawn or no lawn, this autumn.

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