White House to get solar panels

By Kim Geiger

Tribune Washington Bureau (MCT)

WASHINGTON – More than two decades after President Ronald Reagan had a solar water heating system removed from the White House roof, President Barack Obama will become the first to use solar energy as a means for powering the first family’s White House residence.

Plans to install solar panels and a solar hot water heater on the roof of the White House residence were announced Tuesday by Energy Secretary Steven Chu and Council on Environmental Quality Chair Nancy Sutley as part of a larger Energy Department effort to portray solar power as reliable and accessible.

Solar panels had once provided hot water for West Wing offices under Presidents Jimmy Carter and Reagan, but Reagan had the panels removed in the 1980s.

Since Obama’s election, advocates of solar energy have hounded the administration to return solar to the White House. Earlier this year, a group led by environmentalist and author Bill McKibben unearthed one of the Carter-era panels, which were stored at Unity College near Bangor, Maine, and attempted to deliver it to the White House. White House officials agreed to meet with McKibben, but did not accept the panel.

An Oakland, Calif.-based solar sales company, Sungevity, had also launched a campaign urging the White House to install solar panels. The company estimated that installing enough solar equipment to generate roughly 80 percent of the energy consumed by the White House residence would cost $107,900 and would save roughly $1,610 in monthly utility costs.

On Tuesday, McKibben lauded the announcement as a victory for his group, 350.org, which has organized an international climate work day on Oct. 11 to bring attention to the ways that ordinary people can help preserve the environment.

“Even people who don’t get global warming get solar panels,” McKibben said. “This is just the kind of message we’re trying to get across, that there’s some connection between political change and physical change in your community, your house.”

The announcement was timed to coincide with the one-year anniversary of the president’s signing of an executive order that directed federal agencies to set policies aimed at conserving energy and curbing greenhouse gas emissions.

“President Obama has said the federal government has to lead by example in creating opportunity and jobs in clean energy,” Sutley, who was deputy mayor for energy and environment for the city of Los Angeles before joining the Obama administration in 2009, said in a statement.