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The White House is going solar

By Juliet Eilperin
The White House is going solar after all -- and the decision has nothing to do with two independent lobbying campaigns aimed at putting solar panels back on the chief executive's residence, officials say.

Energy Secretary Steven Chu and White House Council on Environmental Quality chairwoman Nancy Sutley announced Tuesday morning that the administration will install solar panels and a solar water heater on the roof of the White House residence as part of a broader Department of Energy demonstration project.

"This project reflects President Obama's strong commitment to U.S. leadership in solar energy and the jobs it will create here at home," Chu said at the GreenGov symposium. "Deploying solar energy technologies across the country will help America lead the global economy for years to come."

The move comes in the wake of two grass-roots campaigns -- one launched by the Oakland, Calif.,-based Sungevity in April, called "Solar on the White House" and another led by 350.org founder Bill McKibben. That group tried to get Obama to reinstall solar panels that President Jimmy Carter had put on the White House in 1979. In 1986, President Ronald Reagan removed the panels and let federal renewable energy subsidies expire; several of the panels were donated to Unity College in the 1990s. McKibben brought some of the old panels to Washington last month as part of his group's "10/10/10 Global Work Party" on climate change. But the White House remained non-committal.



FILE - In this June 20, 1979, file photo President Jimmy Carter, center, is surrounded by reporters and photographers as he inspects a new White House solar water heating system on the roof of the West Wing, over the Cabinet Room. (AP Photo/Harvey Georges, File)

"The White House did the right thing, and for the right reasons" McKibben said in a statement. "They listened to the Americans who asked for solar on their roof, and they listened to the scientists and engineers who told them this is the path to the future. 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."

In an e-mail, Christine Glunz, spokeswoman for the White House Council on Environmental Quality, referred to a press briefing that White House spokesman Robert Gibbs gave in February in which he said "there has been discussion of solar panels" on the White House. Gibbs quipped that when it came to other renewable projects, "I doubt a small wind turbine is in the offing."

"Obama Administration officials started discussions on putting solar on the White House shortly after the start of the administration," Glunz said. "This has nothing to do with any outside organization."

Of course, Obama may simply be following in the footsteps of Republic of Maldives President Mohammed Nasheed, who will put the final touches on a solar photovoltaic system on his official residence on Thursday. As a as a low-lying island in the Indian Ocean, the Maldives is vulnerable to rising sea levels, and Nasheed has emerged as one of the developing world's most vocal proponents of curbing greenhouse gas emissions. He has pledged to make his nation carbon-neutral by 2020.

Sungevity founder Danny Kennedy, whose company designed and is donating the $30,000, 48-panel solar roof system for the Maldives presidential residence, said the system will initially provide half of the residence's power and will save the Maldives $300,000 over its expected 25 years of operation.

Back in Washington, a White House official said the solar panels for the residence will be chosen through a competitive process "based on a range of selection criteria, and will be evaluated based on the best value to the taxpayers."

Kennedy -- who personally pitched Obama on the idea of a solar roof in May and whose company will start installing solar panels on D.C area homes next spring -- said he intends to bid on the new White House project.

"We look forward to the first job in Washington being a very big one," Kennedy said in an interview from the Maldives, where he was beginning work on that installation.

No word yet on whether Obama will reprise Carter's 1979 speech when the solar panels actually make it up on the roof. Back then -- in the midst of a national energy crisis -- Carter optimistically predicted:

"In the year 2000, this solar water heater behind me will still be here supplying cheap, efficient energy. 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 just a small part of one the greatest and most exciting adventures ever undertaken by the American people."

By Juliet Eilperin  | October 5, 2010; 2:54 PM ET
 
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Comments

Glad to see this. I hope the bid process doesn't take forever.

Posted by: LittleRed1 | October 5, 2010 1:48 PM | Report abuse

There should be more tax incentives for individuals and companies to install and use renewable energy.

Posted by: soccerhead | October 5, 2010 2:00 PM | Report abuse

"it could be a trigger for a wave of solar installations across the country and around the world." Keep smoking whatever you're smoking. It's still much to expensive.

Posted by: futbolclif | October 5, 2010 3:25 PM | Report abuse

I can't wait to see the bill for this project. Then I want to see an analysis of the cost of the project vs the savings.

Posted by: Jsuf | October 5, 2010 4:10 PM | Report abuse

You realize the next Republican president will just have them removed again, purely for spite. Which was the true mistake that led to this decision - originally placing them or removing them?

If you think solar is expensive today, what will do you think will happen if the US doesn't act and China continues its lead in alternative energy technology? Expense is not just about the purchase price. Cheap Japanese and Chinese crap derailed whole industries in America. The expense is far worse now because we lacked the foresight to protect American industry.

Posted by: mraymond10 | October 5, 2010 4:23 PM | Report abuse

I heard they were putting a geothermal plant above the press room.

Posted by: reston75 | October 5, 2010 8:15 PM | Report abuse

The White House is going solar after all -- and the decision has nothing to do with two independent lobbying campaigns aimed at putting solar panels back on the chief executive's residence, officials say.
________
Liars....

Posted by: WildBill1 | October 5, 2010 8:44 PM | Report abuse

Wind power would be a more sensible option for Washington D.C. After all there is more hot air generated there than anywhere else on earth. They might as well put it to some good use.

Posted by: OldCoot1 | October 5, 2010 8:53 PM | Report abuse

Does Obama know that Carter was a one term president?

Posted by: win_harrington | October 5, 2010 9:33 PM | Report abuse

Good example for America. Carter had it right 31 years ago.

Posted by: gce1356 | October 5, 2010 10:11 PM | Report abuse

If the government wants to encourage solar power development it should just do what it did with my beloved light bulb and outlaw everything else. It won't shut up the environmental lobby -- those people are incapable of being happy because they just don't like human beings, so as soon as we're 100% solar they'll start complaining that solar panels cause cancer or something.

But at least, as we shiver through the dark winters, we'll know that Al Gore has made a mint off of his investments in clean energy start ups. That'll be nice. Think of all the massages that will cover. At least he'll be warm.

Posted by: dcpost1 | October 5, 2010 10:34 PM | Report abuse

The last president to do this was Carter.

The parallels grow closer with each passing week.

Posted by: Ombudsman1 | October 5, 2010 11:09 PM | Report abuse

There's only one small tiny problem. Solar and wind generated electricity compete with the natural gas market on price. Even with all their subsidies, the break even point for renewable power is $6 nat gas. Nat gas closed today at $3.78. So in other words the White House is leading the charge to get people to pay about 75% more than they should for electricity. That's some demonstration!

Posted by: 54465446 | October 5, 2010 11:17 PM | Report abuse

There's only one small tiny problem. Solar and wind generated electricity compete with the natural gas market on price. Even with all their subsidies, the break even point for renewable power is $6 nat gas. Nat gas closed today at $3.78. So in other words the White House is leading the charge to get people to pay about 75% more than they should for electricity. That's some demonstration!

Posted by: 54465446

And the price of natural gas in 30 years will be? Because I can tell you the price of sunlight.

And that doesn't even begin to account for the externalized costs of natural gas, if you've seen Gasland, you know they aren't small.

Posted by: zcezcest1 | October 6, 2010 12:59 AM | Report abuse

… "The White House did the right thing, and for the right reasons" McKibben said in a statement…

I couldn’t agree more. A Whitehouse closer to Obama’s favorite color has been his dream since his inauguration. Or have you ever seen white solar panes/collectors. If you ask me, it is a clandestine and ultimately racist project, an attempt to convert the Whitehouse into the Blackhouse!

Posted by: west129 | October 6, 2010 1:29 AM | Report abuse

zoezcest wrote:

"And the price of natural gas in 30 years will be? Because I can tell you the price of sunlight.

And that doesn't even begin to account for the externalized costs of natural gas, if you've seen Gasland, you know they aren't small.'

That's kind of silly, don't you think? None of today's solar panels are likely to be still functioning in 30 years. You are aware that they are not just set it and forget it, aren't you?

The externalized costs of solar are no less devastating. It takes about 8-10 times as big an area to put up a solar array than it does a NG plant, and then you have to run the lines for hundreds of miles, because they can't be located close to the largest areas of consumption. So overall, you have a very large impact area, equal to or greater than that of NG wells.

Finally, many people are unaware that you need fossil fuel backup for every mega watt of solar energy you rely on. No, not at the household level where you can always receive power from the grid, but in use as a primary generating system for an area. Excepting some areas of the southwest where their year round sunshine level is adequate, most areas need to have a functioning backup capable of generating the same amount of peak power.

Look, there's nothing "wrong" with solar technology. Used in the right geographic places, or as an individual home supply of power, it will work as advertised. Technologically speaking though it does not have the ability to supply large scale needs for the nation as a whole.

Posted by: 54465446 | October 6, 2010 11:47 AM | Report abuse

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