White House roof to get solar panels

The Obama administration on Tuesday announced plans to install solar panels on the White House roof.

“This project reflects President Obama’s strong commitment to U.S. leadership in solar energy and the jobs it will create here at home,” said Energy Secretary Steven Chu in a statement. “Deploying solar energy technologies across the country will help America lead the global economy for years to come.”

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The action highlights Obama’s support for low-carbon energy at a time when environmentalists are smarting from the collapse of climate legislation — a bill that was not the top White House priority.

Chu and White House Council on Environmental Quality Chairwoman Nancy Sutley announced the plan Tuesday at CEQ’s GreenGov symposium hosted by George Washington University.

The Energy Department-led project will install two White House solar systems — one that converts sunlight into electricity, and a solar hot water heater for the White House residence.

President Carter first installed solar panels on the White House roof, but they were removed during the Reagan administration. President George W. Bush used solar systems to power a maintenance building and some of the mansion, and to heat the pool, according to The Associated Press.

The announcement comes on the one-year anniversary of Executive Order 13514, which requires federal agencies to improve their environmental performance in several ways.

Obama has been a visible supporter of low-carbon energy, making multiple appearances at various renewable-energy companies, and says the renewable-energy sector can be a major driver of job growth.

The big stimulus law included tens of billions of dollars in support for various “clean energy” initiatives, and the administration has also toughened auto mileage rules. But at the same time, healthcare legislation benefited from more White House political muscle than climate bills that collapsed in the Senate.

Environmentalist Bill McKibben — founder of the climate advocacy group 350.org — and several college students last month drove one of the Carter-era solar panels from Maine (where it was stored) and asked the White House to re-install it. They were rebuffed.

McKibben cheered Tuesday’s announcement.

“The White House did the right thing, and for the right reasons: They listened to the Americans who asked for solar on their roof, and they listened to the scientists and engineers who told them this is the path to the future,” he said in a prepared statement.

“If it has anything like the effect of the White House garden, it could be a trigger for a wave of solar installations across the country and around the world,” McKibben added.