Arrow-right Camera

The Spokesman-Review Newspaper The Spokesman-Review

Thursday, August 6, 2020  Spokane, Washington  Est. May 19, 1883
Rain 69° Rain

Down To Earth

Dear Obama: When will we see solar panels on the White House?

Back in the fall, I was excited when President Obama said he would install solar panels on the most famouse residence in America.  Energy Secretary Steven Chu made an official announement solar panels would be installed by spring 2011 on top of the White House to heat water and provide some electricity.

Here we are and summer is a week away.

 said in October 2010: "As we move towards a clean energy economy, the White House will lead by example. I am pleased to announce that by the end of this spring, there will be solar panels that convert sunlight into electricity and a solar hot water heater on the roof of the White House. It’s been a long time since we’ve had them up there. These two solar installations will be part of a Department of Energy demonstration project. The project will show that American solar technology is available, reliable, and ready to install in homes throughout the country. Around the world, the White House is a symbol of freedom and democracy. It should also be a symbol of America’s commitment to a clean energy future."

It wasn't totally unprecedented. Presidents Jimmy Carter and George W. Bush both used solar power during their days in the White House. Carter in the late 1970s spent $30,000 on a solar water-heating system for West Wing offices, only to be removed by Ronald Reagan. Bush’s solar systems powered a maintenance building and some of the mansion, and heated water for the pool.

At the time, Bill McKibben commented, “if it has anything like the effect of the White House garden, it could be a trigger for a wave of solar installations across the country and around the world.”

Now McKibben feels betrayed
 and this latest issue is emblematic of larger issues between Obama and environmentalists.

At Grist, he wrote:

The relationship between environmentalists and President Obama has always been a trifle fraught. We were coming off eight years of an abusive relationship, and he made some grand, even grandiose, promises. (The day he won the nomination, for instance, he said it “was the moment when the rise of the oceans began to slow and our planet began to heal.” That’s the kind of stuff that makes us tingle.)

And at first he seemed to be delivering: He crammed some green stuff into the economic stimulus package, put offshore drilling permits on hold, and restored critical protections under the Endangered Species Act that had been removed in the waning days of the Bush administration. We swooned. “It is difficult to overstate the tremendous progress President Obama has made in just 100 days,” said then-Sierra Club Executive Director Carl Pope. “He has moved swifter and smarter than any president in recent memory.”

Alas, that was the high point. Before too long he was opening vast new stretches of offshore America for drilling, and sitting on the sidelines during the Senate climate debate. He started cozying up to our foes (he went hat-in-hand to the U.S. Chamber of Commerce, the country’s biggest anti-environmental lobby). Earlier this year, he opened a huge swath of federal land in Wyoming to new coal mining—so much coal that he might as well have opened 300 new coal-fired power plants. He even sold out the gray wolf during the last budget negotiations, agreeing to a congressional rider removing it from federal protection. By last week, former Interior Secretary Bruce Babbitt was accusing the White House of “appeasement” in the face of Republican provocation. The New York Times agreed: “in recent months the White House has been far too quiet on the problem of climate change, and its once-promising efforts to regulate industrial pollution, toxic coal ash and mountaintop mining are flagging.”

The perfect symbol of this deterioration?  Look no further than the roof of the White House.

A year ago, some of us decided it would be a great symbol of commitment—kind of a renewal of vows—if Obama would put solar panels on top of the White House, just the way Jimmy Carter had done back in 1978. After all, this was something he could do all on his own, without even having to ask the Congress. And who doesn’t like solar panels?

But we had to push and plead—specifically, we had to find one of the old Carter-era panels, mount it behind a biodiesel van, and bring it all the way down from Unity College in Maine, where it had been producing hot water ever since Ronald Reagan ripped it off the White House roof. Even then, the three college students who made the trip were stonewalled—the president’s aides met with them, but refused to say whether the White House would ever put up solar panels or explain its reluctance. The three students ended up in tears on the sidewalk outside.

Those tears turned to joy two weeks later, however, when the administration suddenly announced it would take us up on our offer. In front of a thousand cheering people at the first GreenGov symposium, Energy Secretary Steven Chu said, “I am pleased to announce that by the end of this spring, there will be solar panels that convert sunlight into electricity and a solar hot water heater on the roof of the White House.”

That was nine months ago. There’s now one week left until the end of spring.

Read the rest of his post HERE
. I'm keeping my fingers crossed it happens soon. The installation is not without meaning, after all. It would send a strong message and while Germany, China and Spain have crushed us in solar energy production due to our own domestic neglect, it’s important to recognize that, buoyed by the Recovery Act, employment in the U.S. solar industry has been exploding in recent years, reaching 60,000 jobs.

Down To Earth

The DTE blog is committed to reporting and sharing environmental news and sustainability information from across the Inland Northwest.