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A Brief History of Presidential (Solar) Power - Sierra Daily

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Sierra Daily

Oct 05, 2010

A Brief History of Presidential (Solar) Power

Today the Obama administration announced that it will install solar panels and a solar hot water heater at the White House. Obvious comparisons were drawn to the Carter administration, which installed a solar water heating system in 1979, which in turn was removed by the Reagan administration in 1986 when the White House roof was being repaired. 

Here are some fun facts about presidential solar systems:

-- The documentary film A Road Not Taken chronicles the life of Carter’s solar panels.

-- While the official Reagan White House word was that it was “unwise, based on cost” to re-install Carter’s panels, George Szego, head of the company that initially installed the solar collectors, recalled that White House Chief of Staff Donald T. Regan "felt that the equipment was just a joke."

-- In 1992, Maine’s Unity College acquired the Carter-era panels under the government surplus donations program and installed them on its cafeteria, where they heated water for 12 years until they were retired.   

Whcabana -- With little fanfare, the George W. Bush administration installed three solar energy systems on White House grounds in 2002. Solar panels (167 of them) grace a maintenance building outside the residence, while separate solar thermal systems warm water for workers and the presidential pool and spa.  

-- Bush 43’s  ranch in Crawford, Texas, has a geothermal heating and cooling system so efficient that the Bushes reportedly shelved plans to install solar panels. 

-- In September, Bill McKibben, author of Eaarth: Making a Life on a Tough New Planet, showed up in Washington, D.C., with one of Unity College’s Carter-era solar panels. (Earlier, McKibben had appeared on The Late Show With David Letterman to make the case for an all-hands-on-deck response to the increasingly dire state of global climate change. “Well, Bill, thank you for scaring the crap out of me,” Letterman quipped.)

-- Ahead of Obama’s inauguration in 2009, Sierra magazine Editor in Chief Bob Sipchen not only called on the incoming administration to re-install solar panels on the White House roof, but also wanted to see Obama up there with a tool belt and battery-powered drill, showing America how a do-it-yourself approach is the quickest way out of our climate predicament.

For more information, check out the Sierra Club’s own Climate Crossroads.

--Reed McManus

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