President Obama [re]installs solar panels on White House roof

While political power struggles are on temporary hold during the 2013 Congressional summer recess, there’s a new source of power at 1600 Pennsylvania Avenue. The White House is installing solar panels on the roof of the presidential residence.

During his first term in office, President Obama made a point of promising to put solar panels on the White House. Now, in 2013, that promise is being kept. The White House says the project will help demonstrate that historic buildings can incorporate solar energy and energy efficiency upgrades.

But President Obama cannot claim to be the first solar-powered president. He’s actually the third.

Jimmy Carter

In 1979, in the midst of the Arab oil embargo, which caused a national energy crisis, Carter installed 32 solar panels on the presidential mansion. At the same time, Carter called for a campaign to conserve energy. In a speech at the solar-panel installation, Carter called solar energy one way to make America more energy independent, saying, “No one can ever embargo the sun or interrupt its delivery to us.”

He added:


1979 White House solar panelsan people. In a speech at the solar-panel installation, Carter called solar energy one way to make America more energy independent, saying, “No one can ever embargo the sun or interrupt its delivery to us.”And then he added:

“…a generation from now, this solar heater can either be a curiosity, a museum

piece, an example of a road not taken, or it can be a small part of one of the greatest and most exciting adventures ever undertaken by the American people; harnessing the power of the Sun to enrich our lives as we move away from our crippling dependence on foreign oil.”

Along with the gesture of adding solar power to the White House, Carter enacted fossil-fuel-reduction strategies and energy-tax credits that would encourage taxpayers to become more energy efficient in their daily lives as well.

Carter was right about at least one thing: the panels turned into “a road not taken.” Less than 10 years later—in 1986—Republican President Ronald Reagan had the perfectly functional solar panels removed.

According to Forgotten History:

In 1986 when the price of energy was temporarily cheaper and Americans’ minds were less focused on environmental issues, President Reagan ordered the panels removed from the White House roof. Reagan’s Administration “felt that the equipment was just a joke… and he had it taken down.” Reagan, who didn’t think much of solar energy, also allowed the tax credit Carter had instated to lapse.Then came “a clear, calculated campaign by the [Department of Energy] in the years of the Reagan administration to crush the solar energy program of the federal government. Conservatives deemed solar energy a liberal idea, so Reagan’s move may have been motivated  by his desire to show that he was a true conservative.

In 1992, half of Jimmy Carter’s doomed solar were installed on the roof of Unity College in Maine, where they worked efficiently for more than a decade. The story of their resurrection and reuse is chronicled in a documentary called “A Road Not Taken.”


George W. Bush[!]

Surprisingly, President and oil-man George W. Bush installed solar panels, too. But, probably to protect his image with the fossil-fuel industry, he didn’t tell anyone about it. According to Forgotten History, in 2002, the National Park Service quietly installed a small number of solar panels on a maintenance building they manage on White House grounds, marking a semi-return to the use of solar power. The Bush Administration did not publicize the installations, which reportedly now heat the White House pool.

I can just hear conservative nabobs of negativism yowling that President Obama is ruining a historic building with new technology–sort of how America has ruined the Constitution by updating it with, y’know, voting rights for African-Americans. And lefties may complain that Obama took too long to do this and hasn’t gone far enough. But, as environmental activist Bill McKibbon of recently said, ” In truth, no one should ever have taken down the panels Jimmy Carter put on the roof way back in 1979. 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.”