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My White House is Solar Cool. Mr. President, why isn’t yours?

June 15th, 2011 · 4 Comments

Sometimes, your kids tell you great things.

We have the coolest house on the street.

Wow.

We’re cool — according to the kids.

Certainly isn’t the non-existent slide for the pool that isn’t there.

Our lack of a huge media room and the glaring absence of a gym didn’t contribute.

And, while I’ve always thought it cool that we live on the white house of the street, that isn’t it either.

My fourth-grader son explained to me why it’s cool:

Because we know where our electricity comes from.

Last fall, facing a bit of pressure (mainly from 350.org) about the absence of solar from the White House roof since the Reagan Administration took off the panels President Carter put it, the Administration promised that the White House would have solar panels up on the roof “before the end of spring”.

As of today, 15 June 2011, the White House still doesn’t have solar panels on it.

The clock is ticking as even with climate disruption messing up our seasons, spring still ends 20 June …

Following up on the 2009 installation of solar hot water, solar pv went on our roof in June 2010 and went active in July. Over the past year, even with two people working from home, (some) electrical heating and cooling, the solar pv has covered 80 percent of our household’s electricity use.

While Barack Obama’s daughters have reason (real reason) to believe that they live on the coolest house of their street, their father has a real chance to make it cooler with a relatively simple action: Follow in Jimmy Carter’s footsteps and put solar (back) on The White House roof.

Bill McKibben and the 350.org team began a campaign last summer for the world’s leaders to put solar on it. (It being their own rooftops.) While this won’t solve the world’s problems, this would be a symbol and a step toward increasing their political actions to build a clean energy future. As part of this, McKibben and others took a Put Solar On It road-trip, driving one of the original Carter solar (hot water) panels to the White House that Ronald Reagan had taken off the roof. McKibben (and many, many others) had hope that President Obama would decide to participate in the 10 Oct 2010 work party and climb on The White House roof (hopefully with entire family) to put solar on The White House roof.

When Dominion Virginia Power (finally) authorized my home’s net metering, there was a bit of a struggle as everyone wanted to turn the system on: five sets of hands, in unison, flipped us from carbon to the power of the sun. It was an empowering moment. And, that empowerment has reached beyond my household. Numerous friends and neighbors have made inquiries since then. Nine households, acting on my (strong) advice, “efficiency before renewable power”, have had energy audits and started investing in energy efficiency with hopes of putting on solar soon. I live on a dead-end street and not that many people come by yet the impact has been real.

When Michelle Obama got her hands dirty gardening, gardening sales boomed in the nation.

What might happen if Barack got his hands dirty helping put solar panels on his (and our) White House roof? (And, well, also conduct a White House barnraising weatherization event?)

  • Would this inspire people to do energy efficiency in their own homes?
  • Would that inspires Americans to put solar on their roofs?
  • Would this help bring visibility to the fact that global warming is real and a serious risk … and that real solutions and opportunities exist?
  • Would this help build a movement to pressure politicians toward action?
  • Would that enable Barack to move renewable energy legislation through the Congress to help put insulation in our walls and solar on our roofs?

President Obama and the First Lady can have some confidence that Malia and Sasha know that they have a pretty cool dad and a pretty cool house.

The President can add to that coolness … and help change the nation and the globe for the better at the same time.

Bill McKibben on Letterman

As Bill put it when he appeared on David Letterman last fall,

[minute 7] Bill McKibben: Look what happened when Michelle planted the garden. Next year seed sales went up 30 percent. Letterman: But the garden didn’t threaten oil and gas … [8:30] McKibben: “10/10/10 global work party, that’s why we want Barack Obama on the roof putting those panels back where they belong” [sustained audience applause] [9:20: McKibben: “During the work party, people will doing things like putting up a solar panel but they will be doing it to send a political message and that message is simple: If I can go to work and do something, then I damn well expect my political leaders to do something.”

A White House reaction

White House staff did meet with the Solar Road Trip crew. And, they stated that they were serious about getting solar on the White House roof but that they “weren’t into stunts”.

Whether due to the “Put Solar On It” campaign or otherwise, the

Holding feet to the fire

Would it surprise anyone that the dedicated 350.org community didn’t forget about this promise? And, well, that they have a petition up Tell Obama: Meet Your Solar Deadline!

Will President Obama meet his self-imposed deadline to get solar panels back on the roof of the White House by the end of this spring? This October 5, Secretary of Energy Steven Chu announced that the Obama Administration would be returning solar panels to the White House roof. (President Carter installed solar panels on the roof in 1979 only to have them removed by President Reagan a few years later.)

“As we move toward a clean energy economy, the White House will lead by example,” said Sec. Chu. “I’m pleased to announce that, by the end of this spring, there will be solar panels that convert solar light into electricity and a solar hot water heater on the roof of the White House.”

As Secretary Chu put it,

It’s been a long time since we’ve had them up there.”

Around the world, the White House is a symbol of freedom and democracy. It should also be a symbol of our commitment to a clean energy future.

As Bill McKibben recently put it,

A year ago, some of us decided it would be a great symbol of commitment—kind of a renewal of vows—if Mr. Obama would put solar panels up on top, just the way Jimmy Carter had done way back in 1978. After all, this was something he could do all on his own, without even having to ask the Congress. And who doesn’t like solar panels?

But we had to push and plead—specifically, we had to find one of the old Carter-era panels, mount it behind a bio-diesel van, and bring it all the way from Unity College in Maine where it had been producing hot water ever since Ronald Reagan ripped it off the White House roof. Even then, the three college students who made the trip were stonewalled—at a meeting with the president’s aides, they refused to tell us whether they would ever put up solar panels, not to mention why not. The three young women ended up in tears on the sidewalk outside.

Those tears turned to joy two weeks later, however, when the administration suddenly announced it would take us up on our offer. In front of a thousand cheering people at the first “GreenGov” symposium, Energy Secretary Stephen Chu said “I’m pleased to announce that, by the end of this spring, there will be solar panels and a solar hot water heater on the roof of the White House.”

That was nine months ago. With one week left until the end of spring, can you guess the next part of the story?

We still have faith. A week’s a long time. In the last few days, 20,000 Americans have written to ask the president to keep his promise. The White House is a can-do bunch (they bailed out the banks in a matter of hours!). Hope springs eternal. Sort of.

We’ll be watching the roof. (We’ll be watching more important things too, like whether the White House approves a new pipeline to the tar sands of Alberta later this year, a fifteen-hundred mile fuse to the biggest carbon bomb on the continent). Why do relationships have to be so hard?

Why does it have to be so hard to get a father to make his house cool for his kids … and the nation?

A note …
The White House is almost certainly not going to have panels up by the end of 20 June … this deadline would slip past.

As opposed to White House staffer (a key one on energy, sigh …) who stated that she wasn’t into “stunts”, Secretary Chu understands the power of symbols.

This fall, the bi-annual Solar Decathlon will be held (as always, phew) in Washington, DC (sadly, in Potomac Park rather than on the Mall).

Why not have the White House solar panels go up and active during The Solar Decathlon?

Why not have a representative from the 20 teams join President Obama (and his family) in a ceremony to turn these panels on?

Want to have the symbol reverberate with impact? That, imo, would do so …

Tags: President Barack Obama · Solar Energy · political symbols · solar

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