Last fall, to emphasize the Obama Administration’s commitment to renewable power, Energy Secretary Steven Chu announced a DOE demonstration project to install solar photovoltaic panels and solar hot water on the White House roof. Here's Chu pledging to get it done before the start of summer.
I mean, how hard can it be?
Just send a couple of secret service guys to Home Depot, pick up some solar panels, and have Biden start drilling into a 200-year-old roof. Boehner can do the wiring. Michelle can work on getting permits for the construction. Or if they really want to wind people up -- they should use Solyndra's American-made, DOE-loan-guaranteed panels.
Finally, something that can unite the left and right sides of the political spectrum -- the tragedy of Obama breaking his promise to install solar PV and solar hot water on the White House roof.
Folks on the left like Bill McKibben, founder of 350.org and a member of Grist's board of directors are getting self-righteous about the matter. And anti-Obama commenters on sites like Politico are keeping it classy, as per usual.
The imbroglio has motivated Ramamoorthy Ramesh, the Director of the SunShot Initiative and Solar Energy Technologies Program, to issue a press release saying:
The Energy Department remains on the path to complete the White House solar demonstration project, in keeping with our commitment, and we look forward to sharing more information -- including additional details on the timing of this project -- after the competitive procurement process is completed.
Let's take a break from this 24-hour news cycle sensationalism for:
The Real History of Solar at the White House
Obama wouldn't be the first or even the second U.S. President to install solar on the roof of the White House.
Yes, President Carter installed solar on the White House and President Reagan removed the panels. But the saga is deeper than that.
George Bush is involved, but Bill Clinton is not.
The story is told by Steven Strong, a leading authority on integrating renewable energy systems, especially solar, in buildings in North America. Strong's firm consults to architects on the integration of solar power, and to the building industry on product development through his firm, Solar Design Associates. He has quite possibly been doing it longer than anyone else.
Over the past 25 years, Strong has designed scores of solar buildings.
Amongst his many photovoltaic installation accomplishments, Strong was involved in a semi-clandestine solar mission -- deploying solar in the less-than-friendly environment of the Bush/Cheney White House compound at 1600 Pennsylvania Avenue in Washington, D.C. "The dialogue actually began with the prior tenant," Strong explained. "But Clinton was distracted by interns and impeachment," and Strong never heard from the Clinton people after that.
Then, nine months after the start of the W. administration, Strong visited the site and spent the entire day with the White House architect. They looked at all the potential siting opportunities, excepting the main mansion, which is "covered with spook stuff." Strong ended up helping design and install a 10-kilowatt photovoltaic system and two thermal solar systems within the compound. All the inverters had to go to the Secret Service warehouse for clearance, presumably for inspection for listening devices and explosives.
If you wonder why you didn't hear more about this seemingly positive news from the W. press office -- well, in an administration that had a VP saying things like, "Conservation may be a sign of personal virtue, but it is not a sufficient basis for a sound, comprehensive energy policy," the presence of PV on the White House never made it onto their list of talking points.
Back to the Matter at Hand
The Obama Administration has done more for the renewable energy and solar industry than any previous administration.
And although their heart is in the right place, the effort expended by solar zealots to get solar on the White House roof is a distraction and a waste of what little political capital and resources the solar industry does possess.
The solar industry's time would better be spent pressuring Harry Reid and the Senate to vote on an energy bill. How about lobbying for a consistent and intelligent energy policy and creating a fertile environment for the U.S. solar industry? How about a national renewable energy standard? A feed-in tariff?
Anything but this sideshow.
And if solar is, in fact, installed on the White House roof -- it remains to be seen what the Romney/Palin Administration will do with the panels in 2013.