Facing growing and increasingly prominent calls to restore solar panels to the White House roof, roughly 30 years after Ronald Reagan pulled off the panels President Jimmy Carter put up, Secretary of Energy Steven Chu made an exciting announcement at Green Gov last October:
As we move toward a clean energy economy, the White House will lead by example.
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.
“By the end of this spring …”
Last I checked, despite Global Warming’s disruptive impacts on our weather, 21 June 2011 marks “the end of this spring” and, well, President Barack Obama has not (yet?) mirrored President Carter’s mounting on top the White House to demonstrate to the world that solar power can contribute to answering our economic, energy, and environmental challenges (and opportunities).
And, the Administration’s almost certain failure to meet its self-imposed deadline began to get some public notice in the past few weeks. As Bill McKibben put it,
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.
A White House reaction
Facing this public scolding, the Administration chose to respond today with an affirmation of its commitment to solar power. While An Update on White House Solar Panels and Our Solar Program appeared at the DOE energy blog, White House public communications staff pushed out the material.
We cannot win the future without winning the clean energy race, which is why President Obama laid out a clear goal to increase our nation’s clean energy share and continue to build a 21st century clean energy economy. Last fall, to underscore the Obama Administration’s commitment to clean and renewable energy, Energy Secretary Steven Chu and CEQ Chair Nancy Sutley announced that the Energy Department would lead a project to install American solar photovoltaic panels and a solar hot water heater on the roof of the White House.
Do you note something missing from this? How about that they promised that the panels would be up “before the end of spring”? In, of course, an item posted on the last full day of spring 2011.
The Energy Department remains on the path to complete the White House solar demonstration project, in keeping with our commitment,
Secretary Chu was quite clear in his commitment to have this done by a specific date. “The Energy Department” (sic, note that the Department of Energy blog used the wrong title) is absolutely not “on the path … in keeping with [its] commitment”.
I would be furious with a contractor who promised to have work done by a date certain who arrived on the eve of the deadline with a proud statement that he/she was “on the path to complete [the work] in keeping with [their] commitment” when the work wasn’t done as promised.
As one acquaintance put it to me in an email, “I wished I’d realize that this is what I should have done when I was in school. This is what I should have told the professors about late assignments:
“Handing in my homework is key to winning the future. I have done a lot of other homework in the past, and I assure you, I remain on the path to completing my homework. I look forward to sharing with you the exact date when I deem it appropriate.”
With the deadline passing, the pressure will only grow …
Bill McKibben has vowed to keep up the pressure on the Administration to lead by example.
Barack Obama told his supporters after the election that he needed constant pressure–from now on we’ll do our best to provide it, and on issues even more significant than this.
Let’s be clear … the public wants this …
A new Yale survey shows that shows that support for clean energy is almost unanimous with 91 percent of Americans saying that “developing sources of clean energy should be a very high (32%), high (35%), or medium (24%) priority for the president and Congress.”
Yes … symbolic … but symbols matter
What might happen if President Obama 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 President Obama to move renewable energy legislation through the Congress to help put insulation in our walls and solar on our roofs?
A path forward?
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 …