The White House Gets Solar Panels (Again)

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The White House, is seen from the Washington Monument, Sunday, June 2, 2013 in Washington. The monument has been closed since the 2011 earthquake and half of the needed repairs have been funded by a $7.5 million donation from philanthropist David Rubenstein. The Associated Press had a look at some of the worst damage and the preparations underway to begin making repairs. Stone by stone, engineers are reviewing cracks, missing pieces and broken mortar now that huge scaffolding has been built around the towering symbol of the nation’s capital. (AP Photo/Alex Brandon)
The White House, as seen from the Washington Monument. (AP Photo/Alex Brandon)

After three years of prodding from environmental advocacy groups, the administration is finally making good on a 2010 promise to install solar panels at the White House while the first family was on vacation in Martha’s Vineyard last week. The project, a staffer told the Washington Post, is “part of an energy retrofit that will improve the overall energy efficiency of the building.”

In his June climate speech, Obama announced a new goal: to have 20 percent of the federal government’s energy usage come from renewable power by 2020. That includes making our Army, Navy and Air Force more sustainable, a move that many commanders say would give our military a tactical advantage, but that has run into opposition in both the House and Senate.

The new solar panels on the White House will make a very small, largely symbolic dent in achieving Obama’s goal. But environmental activist Bill McKibben — whose group originally solicited a promise to install solar panels from Obama — said that the new panels are an important step.

“Better late than never — in truth, no one should ever have taken down the panels Jimmy Carter put on the roof way back in 1979,” said McKibben. “But it’s very good to know that once again the country’s most powerful address will be drawing some of that power from the sun.”

Carter installed the panels to heat water during his administration, guessing (with his presidency-defining pessimism, it would seem) that to future generations the panels would “either be a curiosity, a museum piece, an example of a road not taken, or it can be just a small part of one of the greatest and most exciting adventures ever undertaken by the American people.” But the Reagan administration had them taken down — George C. Szego, the engineer who persuaded Carter to install the panels, later said that Reagan’s Chief of Staff Donald T. Regan “felt that the equipment was just a joke.”

Those same panels ended up heating water for a dining hall at Unity College in Maine. In September, 2010, McKibben and a group of Unity students returned them to the White House, along with a petition signed by 50,000 people asking the administration to install new panels.

The Washington Post reports that, even if Obama’s home has not been greened until now, the administration has taken other steps toward its goal of a 20 percent reduction in fossil fuels by 2020.

The administration has doubled the number of hybrid cars and truck in the federal fleet, increased the government’s use of renewable energy to 7 percent, cut the federal government’s greenhouse gas emissions by 15 percent and committed $2 billion to upgrade federal buildings’ energy efficiency through contracting requirements at no up-front cost to taxpayers.

So far these measures have collectively saved 7 million gallons of gas and been equivalent to permanently removing 1.5 million cars from the road, according to the White House.

Last month, House Republicans passed an energy budget bill that would slash funding for renewable energy and energy efficiency programs by half, and would cut funds for research into new sources of energy by more than two thirds. The Democrat-run Senate won’t agree to the bill, and the president has promised to veto it if they did, but the House legislation signals that sustainability programs will be a target during next month’s budget debate.

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  • Cynthia Davis

    I see the Regressive Republicans are still at it trying to bring back Feudalism and the Dark Ages.

  • Anonymous

    I would like to see all government buildings and public schools have renewable energy and solar panels. FT GOP. I don’t want to live in their regressive backward thinking policies. I don’t get why they think “We the People” want them.

  • Seth Jacobs

    The Greedy Old Party (GOP) strikes again. When will they die out and become more beneficial as biodegradable food.

  • John Bailo

    What the White House needs are fuel cells to be able to run night and day if the grid goes down. They can use those solar panels to generate hydrogen as fuel and use it at night just like Mike Strizki has been doing at his home in Lambertville, NJ since 2006.

  • Kitti McConnell

    Bush Jr. also had solar panels installed, to heat the swimming pool. I am glad for all three of these President’s efforts to use solar panels at the White House. Solar is an important part of our best course to energy cleanliness and independence.

  • Eamon O’Connor

    Rather telling that it was the RayGun Administration that took them down, perhaps because the solar panels offended the energy industry.

  • SustainbleFuture

    Too little, too late.

  • Nina Flannery

    But no doubt.

  • GreatGrandma

    There are new and better things coming.

  • Kevin Renner

    There was no need to wait for the White House, we can do solar energy for ourselves. I’m just a guy with little formal education, & I’ve been using a solar power system, IN AN APARTMENT since 2006. If you can operate a screwdriver, you can do this on some level that will be beneficial.


    Excellent example to the populace.

  • Justin King

    Of course, a Paleo- Conservative like Reagan would dismantle them.

  • Maribeth Dennis

    Thank goodness! Here in Lubbock, the city owned electric company has raised the cost by ridiculous amounts to many homes. Solar energy can help us have more reasonable costs.

  • Bob

    People being people, no change will come until renewable energy becomes cheaper than throwaway fossil fuels that heat the planet like an oven. A massive program like the Space Race is required to produce new technology. Storage cells for electricity are key. The electric grid is vulnerable, not just to attack, but to the inevitable solar flare, like the one in the 19th century. Sooner or later, the cost will dwarf the short term gain. We spend Billions on Armies. A fraction of that could secure our future for centuries. In the short term, make all short trip GSA vehicles electric only. They can do that today!

  • Jane Green

    To all those Republicans fighting renewable energy innovations, etc.: The oil money signs in your eyes are clearly visible, and let me just ad, dumb, dumb, dumb,dumb…

  • de co

    By 2020, the federal government’s energy use 20% of the electricity from renewable energy sources.

  • Anonymous

    And our next president will probably rip off the solar panels right away, and install a coal-fired power plant spewing carbon dioxide.