White House To Finally Get Solar Panels

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How many years ago was it promised that the White House would have solar panels installed on the roof? Three that seemed more like twelve. The disappointments that resulted from the unfulfilled promise were great and not at all necessary. How hard is it to get a small number of them on the roof of the White House?

Offers were made to provide the technology and installation for free, and they were ignored. Finally, the installation appears to be happening, according to the Washington Post. It’s hard to tell if this great news or just sort of a buzz kill drawn out over what seemed like a less than magical drought.

The premise behind having them installed back in the 1970s by then President Jimmy Carter was simple enough and that was the main appeal. If the number one house in America could be powered by solar, at least partly, then many members of the public might come to see they could use them too. They didn’t last too long though, because the center of American culture was a little more fossil-fuel oriented, or a lot more. Ronald Reagan was elected and he ordered the solar panels to be taken down.

They weren’t hurting anything, except our unquestioning reliance on coal and petroleum products, but Reagan didn’t like them. So, flash forward several decades, and it seemed like it was a slam dunk that new solar panels should be quickly added to the White House roof. This view only seemed sensible considering the 2008 Obama campaign was presented as an urgent activism to restore hope to the country. The spirit of it was change in the form of new policies that were supposed to give power back to the people, and remove it from the huge corporations and lobbyists that had become far too dominant.

In the end, we got more rhetoric than action, as we might have expected. That it took so long to complete a fairly simple project, only has underscored that action has been on the short side in some aspects of the current two-term administration. Speeches made about climate change might been a little more credible if the commitment to greening the White House had been stronger.

Image Credit: Matt H. Wade

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Jake Richardson

Hello, I have been writing online for some time, and enjoy the outdoors. If you like, you can follow me on Twitter: https://twitter.com/JakeRsol

Jake Richardson has 1008 posts and counting. See all posts by Jake Richardson

33 thoughts on “White House To Finally Get Solar Panels

  • First just to be clear I did vote for him. But this was such a simple symbolic act. It would have taken him 2 minutes to assign the task to an aid to send out a request for offers to do a PV system for the White House. It didn’t need budget approve since they would have (and did) get offers to do it free. It isn’t bad press to be able to say you did the White House. Why did he wait so long? It could have been installed in his first term, his first year.

    • They might have put it off to make it part of the overall electrical system updates, not mentioned in this article,

  • There’s a good reason Obama waited to install solar panels. Our
    right-wing Teabaggers with the help of their lackeys in the corporate
    media would have spun the installation of solar panels as another
    example of Obama alternative energy flakiness, just as they did in the
    case of Solyndra. In fact, Obama — who has done more than all of our
    previous presidents combined to support alternative energy — has again
    shown himself to be the master of timing.

    • I agree. The article I posted above shares more of the full picture in terms of what Obama is doing to make the federal govt more efficient vs pushing small symbolic acts that in and of themselves don’t do much other than send a message.

    • The promise was made a long time ago, hardly a master of timing. Also, solar panels had been on the White House decades prior, so having them now when alternative energy is much more prevalent and affordable to all is hardly a radical act. The Teabaggers have no credibility on energy policy or climate change. They come off as quacks and Luddites.

      • …except that their vote weigh as much as the educated people and rocket scientists.

        • The Teabaggers do have credibility with many in the corporate media who kowtow to their criticisms of government subsidies to alternative energy.

        • And you call ‘teabaggers’ elitist…

        • We weren’t talking about votes, it was about communication…fossil fuels are clearly a dead end.

      • We simply do not know PBO’s timeline for working on all the problems we face. Clearly he had to start with the financial disaster he inherited. He also, apparently, felt that he had only a limited window of opportunity to deal with getting Americans universal health care which had been unsuccessfully worked on for decades. Then there were two foreign wars.

        Clearly the administration has access to information that the rest of us don’t. They are probably better able to forecast the falling price of renewables and the recovery of the economy. (Secretary Chu was talking about $1/watt solar which seemed impossible and is now coming true.) Until solar fell in cost and people had money to spend on solar there was no reason to start beating the drum for more solar.

        Did PBO purposely wait until now to put panels back on the White House as a symbolic move to help emphasize his emerging climate change work? I don’t know. But I can see the possibility of that decision made early in his time in office as he laid out the sequence in which he would deal with the problems he faced.

          • You are making the “almost three years wasted” claim based on your timeline.

            I don’t know what PBO’s timeline has been but it could be that he planned to get to energy/climate issues about this time in his second term and used the panels as one part of the signal that he’s now turning his attention to climate change.

            Remember, he had to deal with the recession, health care, two foreign wars, the federal deficit, and gay rights. Even the most talented juggler can keep only so many running chainsaws in the air at one time.

          • It isn’t my timeline at all: “In October 2010, then Energy Secretary Steven Chu announced that solar
            panels would be installed at the White House, in a bid to encourage Americans to adopt the green power generation technology.”http://news.discovery.com/tech/alternative-power-sources/white-house-goes-green-solar-panels-130816.htm

            As mentioned before, the installation of a small number of solar panels is a tiny project, especially compared to some of the others mentioned, and could have been easily completed long ago. The founder of Sungevity said as much recently : Solar Power at the White House: What Took So Long? http://www.huffingtonpost.com/danny-kennedy/white-house-solar-power_b_3769527.html

          • Last time I checked Chu wasn’t president.

            Do you understand symbolic actions?

  • You guys do know that the white house did previously have solar panels for about 10-20 years but they were removed.

    • No, Carter put them on in 1979. Reagan took them off in 1986.

      Solar panels were installed on one of the White House ancillary buildings during the Bush administration.

      “Reagan’s political philosophy viewed the free market as the best
      arbiter of what was good for the country. Corporate self-interest, he
      felt, would steer the country in the right direction,” the author Natalie Goldstein wrote in “Global Warming.”

      George Charles Szego, the engineer who persuaded Carter to install the solar panels, reportedly claimed that Reagan Chief of Staff Donald T. Regan
      “felt that the equipment was just a joke, and he had it taken down.” The
      panels were removed in 1986 when work was being done on the White House roof below the panels.”


      Reagan’s political philosophy viewed the free market as the best
      arbiter of what was good for the country. Thanks to Reagan’s libertarian thinking corporate self-interest brought us the Great Recession of 2008 and did not cause a movement away from fossil fuels.

      • So I guess it wasn’t private individuals who decided to buy homes they couldn’t afford, nor the pressure to force banks/lending institutions to do so (aka NOT the free market) that caused the “Great Recession”?

        I guess when you are talking about the free market you DON’T get that means you, me and every other American who choose to use air-conditioning all summer and heaters all winder and drive big luxury cars and buys petroleum based products like laptops and cell phones hand over fist?

        • If you were involved in real estate during that period then you would know that mortgage brokers pushed loans at people who couldn’t afford them. Due diligence to assure that people could meet their obligations was not done.

          It wasn’t the “free market”, it was the “too free market”. Surely you understand that a totally free market would end up with essentially everything in the world owned by one gigantic monopolistic company in only a few years?

          The myth of the free market is as bogus as the myth that we don’t need laws and regulations to protect ourselves from the greediest among us.

          Market forces are very powerful. Control them or they will control you.

          • It is virtually impossible to create and sustain a monopoly WITHOUT government intervenion #1

            #2 people know when they can’t afford loans. if you can’t figure out that $25,000 a year can’t but you a million dollar home you have no business applying for a loan. There WERE cases of lender being lied to about when/how interest kicked in, in almost all cases required the borrower intentionally looking away.

            The biggest ‘push’ to lend to people who couldn’t afford to borrow came from the government, from people like Bill Clinton and Barney Frank (who suddenly wanted regulations after the fact). Barney Frank said in 1999 there was NO risk of collapse and vehemently opposed regulations to prevent ‘regular’ folk from owning homes. Clinton helped initiate regulatins that MANDATED lending firms and agencies e.g. Fannie Mae to lend a given % of loans to the riskiest lenders in order to MAINTAIN their credit ratings (the lenders that is).

            That isn’t a ‘free market’; that is a unnatrual market regulated by politicians to ignore the facts and realities of lending. And EVERYONE cashed in. You can’t just excuse the billions of toxic loans borrowed by people who couldn’t ever pay it back. Everyone is complicit in this, banks, politicians, people who borrowed and every one who bought into the fallacy that we all deserve homes and middle-class lives without working for them.

            BTW as reprehensible some of the banks acted, you can scarely blame a lending institution forced to make highly risky loans to create instruments to hedge their losses.

            It is a endlessly vicious cycle; we create regulations then blame the free market when things don’t work out as planned, then create more regulations to regulate the free market when things don’t work out as planned.

            This cycle would never have started if the GOVERNMENT hadn’t decided to interfere with the lending market due to i’ts misguided notion to make sure ‘every one owned the American Dream’ nor could it have continued if every one didn’t believe they deserved it.

            Greed comes in all shapes and forms but the best definitoin I ever heard is ‘the desire for the unearned’.

          • “It is virtually impossible to create and sustain a monopoly WITHOUT government intervenion #1”

            Come on, that’s ridiculous. In fact, your entire comment is ridiculous. Just look at this statement….

            “BTW as reprehensible some of the banks acted, you can scarely blame a lending institution forced to make highly risky loans to create instruments to hedge their losses.”

            Can’t blame a lending institution for making risky loans? Phufffffffffff……

          • Sure it’s ridiculous because it doesn’t fit your liberal mantra. Lending institutions did not MAKE risky loans prior to being pressured, legislated and coerced by the GOVERNMENT. Go look at the # and ratio of risky loans made prior to 1999.

            My statement btw if you bothered to read it and not (falsely summarize) was that you can’t blame a lending institution that is forced to make risky loans BY THE GOVERNMENT for creating instruments to protect itself (credit default swaps i.e. hedging for the good possibility of those risky loans it was forced to make defaulting).

            The market is very good at weeding out ‘monopolies’ almost every one you can mention was created by GOVERNMENT intervention by restricting or eliminating competition in markets or regions or via government contracts.

            I do love your ‘that’s ridiculous’ rebuttals though, they are highly informative.

          • You have a nice day.

          • Very true!

    • Yep … the panels were removed by Ronnie RayGun as a symbolic act to the renewed subservience of his administration to oil company interests.

    • “After the 1973 war and the first Arab
      oil shock, look at what America did and what Denmark did. What we did
      was say, “Wow! We’ve got to really take on this issue.” So beginning
      with President Ford and President Carter we said we were going to double
      the fuel efficiency of American cars from about 13 mpg then to I think
      it was 27.5. We were going to do it over ten years and we did it. We
      were so successful doing that we helped break OPEC in the late ’70s and
      early ’80s and crater the price of oil. That worked out so well that
      Ronald Reagan, when he came along, said, “That’s enough of that!” He
      ripped off the solar panels that Jimmy Carter had put on the White House
      roof — they were recently auctioned online…. Some of those solar
      companies that we spawned in the ’70’s and ’80’s — they went bust also
      when we removed our subsidies and taxes. They were bought by Japan. I
      can’t tell you how grateful the innovators and corporate leaders of
      Japan and Denmark are today for all the money America invested in
      research in wind and solar, spawning companies here which went bust in
      the ’80s when we removed the subsidies from them…. One of the leading
      wind innovators in America, in fact, was given a medal of honor by the
      government of Denmark. All his technology ended up there.”

      –Thomas Friedman, New York Times columnist, interviewed by Terry Gross of WHYY’s “Fresh Air,” about the revelations in his book, Hot, Flat, and Crowded, 8 September 2008

  • I am glad Obama waited till now. The act would have been completely symbolic, and would have simply given Anti-solar people an easy campaign slogan.

    You really don’t think we would have seen commercials in 2012 with suffering jobless Americans interspersed with Van Jones and solar panels on the WH?

    Frankly I am more concerned about environmentalists who are willing to sacrifice hard fought gains (imagine the state of the EV market if Romney was Presidesnt and had slashed all incentives) for a little symbolism. The short term thinking is mind-boggling.

    • True. Romney — a global warming denier and religious fanatic — would have been a disaster
      for alternative energy.

  • Another example is Keystone. What Obama is doing to the Keystone pipeline is even more effective than rejecting it. The delayed review process has led to tremendous doubt about the feasibility of building pipelines. This will discourage environment hurting projects which do not fall under the State department by increasing their costs since they know they have to go through a lengthy review process.

    It is far better than a quick “no Keystone” verdict.

    • Absolutely. Obama will be able to make
      a stronger case against the pipeline as time
      goes on, because America’s dependence on
      foreign oil is decreasing by the day.

  • I’m curious; all the people who applaud Obama’s ‘symbolic’ gesture (and or criticize him for taking so long); how many of YOU have installed solar panels on your homes?

  • Now, how long will it take to get them to convert their heating and cooling systems to Geothermal Heat Pumps? The solar panels are excellent and, of course, necessary to reduce the carbon footprint of the building, however, solar isn’t sufficient to get the building to Net-Zero-Emissions. Converting to GHP would allow them to heat and cool the building with much less energy than needed for alternatives, thus, the building would be more resilient to problems like loss of power or other disruptions.

  • Hearing that Reagan took Carter’s panels down is upsetting, as they could have served as a positive influence for Americans. I suppose I can have some conciliation from knowing they were nowhere near as powerful as the ones today are. Does anyone know how many panels are being installed? And if there are plans for other government buildings to install them as well?

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