From: David A Gabel, ENN
Published October 7, 2010 10:02 AM

Solar Power to Return to the White House

Coinciding with its push for more renewable energy development, the executive branch of the US federal government has decided to install solar panels on the White House. This is a quarter century after President Reagan took down the previous solar panels installed by his predecessor, President Carter. The Obama Administration will install new solar panels as a way of promoting its clean energy program.

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Solar panels were originally installed at the White House in 1979 following several oil crises. The OPEC oil embargo of 1973 created a severe gasoline shortage in the United States and sent prices through the roof. The embargo was in response to the United States support of Israel during the Yom Kippur War. Then there was a second oil crisis in 1979 in the wake of the Iranian Revolution. Declines in production in Iran were offset by increases in production of other OPEC nations, but widespread panic ensued, which sent prices higher than would be normally expected.

These oil crises in the 1970's exposed the weakness of the United States' foreign oil dependency. Jimmy Carter set up solar panels on the White House to encourage the nation to become energy independent through the use of domestic renewable resources. However, they were later dismantled by Ronald Reagan who, after the oil crisis had subsided, felt they were unnecessary.

Now the current administration is set to reinstall the solar panels next spring. They will provide hot water and a small amount electricity to the White House residence.

This executive decision was announced by US Secretary of Energy Steven Chu, who stated, "As we move toward a clean-energy economy, the White House will lead by example... This project reflects President Obama's strong commitment to U.S. leadership in solar energy and the jobs it will create at home."

The decision was also influenced in part by efforts from activist Bill McKibben, who led a caravan from Maine to Washington, carrying one of the solar panels originally installed by the Carter Administration. McKibben, an outspoken environmental advocate, was galvanized to act by the US Congress' inability to pass the recently failed climate bill. Lacking legislative action, he decided to take meaningful symbolic action. Bringing solar power back to the White House is about as symbolic as it gets.

McKibben believes that the reason the legislation failed was because of a lack of public enthusiasm. He also believes that strengthening the environmental movement in the US is necessary in the face of this political defeat. "The point of all these panels, of course, is not that we're going to solve climate change one roof at a time," McKibben writes. "The point is that they help build the movement that we allowed to wither away."

For more information on Bill McKibben’s efforts: http://e360.yale.edu/feature/a_symbolic_solar_road_trip_to_reignite_a_climate_movement/2317/

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