You think you have solar permitting problems?

Back in 2010, to illustrate the Obama administration’s commitment to renewable power, then-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 2010. The solar industry rallied around the symbolic effort.

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 the 200-year-old roof. Boehner can do the wiring. Michelle can work on getting permits for the construction. If they really want to wind people up, they can deploy unused Solyndra inventory.

Anyway, after a 40-month permitting process, that for sure involved union issues and buy-American clauses, it would appear that D.C. gridlock has abated long enough to put a few kilowatts on the White House roof, according to an unidentified White House official quoted by Politico. “The White House has begun installing American-made solar panels on the first family’s residence as part of an energy retrofit that will improve the overall energy efficiency of the building,” according to the official.

SEIA has assured GTM reporter Herman Trabish that the panels will not be built in China, although details on size and type of panels have not been shared. Expect something in the range of 4 to 10 kilowatts. D.C. does have incentive programs for solar rooftops, and the ITC probably does not apply to the building.

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 runs 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 with architects on the integration of solar power and with 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.