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White House Generating More Than Controversy: Solar Panels Are Reinstalled
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August 15, 2013

White House Generating More Than Controversy: Solar Panels Are Reinstalled

By Cheryl Kaften
TMCnet Contributor

President Barack Obama has begun looking to a higher power to fulfill a long-standing pledge to the U.S. public. This week, solar panels will be installed on the White House roof, as the POTUS said was his intention in October 2010.

An Administration official confirmed to the press, “The White House has begun installing American-made solar panels on the first family’s residence as a part of a ... retrofit that will improve the overall energy efficiency of the building.”

The panels are one component of a larger energy efficiency effort mandated by the first family. “The retrofit will include the installation of energy-saving equipment, such as updated building controls and variable speed fans. The project will help demonstrate that historic buildings can incorporate solar energy and energy efficiency upgrades,” the spokesperson elaborated.

Above, President Jimmy Carter shows his solar panels to the press (photo courtesy of Jimmy Carter Library and White House Museum).

This has not the first time that a Democratic president has “gone through the roof” to demonstrate his commitment to renewable energy. In 1979, Jimmy Carter, in a pioneering move, installed solar panels on the roof of the White House. This symbolic installation was taken down in 1986 during the Reagan presidency. (Five years later, according to the Huffington Post (News - Alert), in 1991, Unity College, an environmentally centered college in Maine, acquired the panels and later installed them on their cafeteria.)

Environmentalist Bill McKibben — founder of the climate advocacy group — and several college students last month drove one of the Carter-era solar panels from Maine and asked the White House to re-install it. They were turned away.

McKibben cheered the apparent change of heart. “The White House did the right thing, and for the right reasons: 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,” he said in a prepared statement.

“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,” McKibben added. “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,” he said.

Rhone Resch, president and CEO of the Solar Energy Industry Association, a trade group, commented, “We applaud President Obama for, once again, leading by example. Today, solar is generating enough electricity to power more than 1.3 million American homes, and we’re extraordinarily proud to be adding the White House to this constantly-growing list.

“Installing solar panels on the First Family’s official residence, arguably the most famous building in America, underscores the growing popularity of solar energy nationwide,” Resch continued. “We applaud the President for making solar a shining symbol at the White House for clean, renewable energy.  We look forward to working with the Administration and Congress on even more ways to expand the use of solar throughout the federal government.”

According to the SEIA, today, there are more than 8,500 megawatts (MW) of cumulative solar electric capacity installed in the United States.  What’s more, in the first quarter of 2013, nearly half of all new generating capacity added to the grid was solar. All totaled, it’s expected that more than 5,300 MW of new solar electric capacity will come online this year. In addition solar now employs nearly 120,000 Americans at more than 5,600 companies, most of which are small businesses nationwide.

Edited by Ryan Sartor

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