Monday, November 3, 2008

1986: first president to remove solar panels from the White House

In 1979 President Jimmy Carter proposed a "new solar strategy" to "move our Nation toward true energy security and abundant, readily available energy supplies." In an effort to set an example for the country, Carter had solar panels installed on the roof of the White House West Wing. The panels were used to heat water.

At the time, Carter warned "a generation from now, this solar heater can either be a curiosity, a museum piece, an example of a road not taken, or it can be a small part of one of the greatest and most exciting adventures ever undertaken by the American people; harnessing the power of the Sun to enrich our lives as we move away from our crippling dependence on foreign oil."

President Ronald Reagan had the solar panels taken down in 1986 when the White House roof was being repaired. They are still working at Unity College in Maine.

Sixteen years after the panels were removed, two solar water heating systems and a solar electricity system have returned to the White House.

Since September 2002, a grid of 167 solar panels on the roof of a maintenance shed has been delivering electricity to the White House grounds. Another solar installation has been providing hot water.

A roof on the White House grounds had to be replaced anyway, and it made economical as well as environmental sense to incorporate solar energy. It was time to replace the roof on "The Pony Shed", a maintenance building that replaced the stable that once housed Macaroni, a pony owned by President Kennedy's daughter, Caroline.

It was the National Park Service's decision to install a solar energy system on the White House grounds, similar to other solar installations made by the Park Service elsewhere. The Service, which is responsible for the building, had already mandated that any refurbishments of its facilities should incorporate environmentally-friendly design whenever possible. (info from and

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