My White House is ‘Solar Cool,’ Mr. President. Why Isn’t Yours Yet?

A. Siegel, in a Get Energy Smart NOW! cross-post.

Sometimes, your kids tell you great things: “We have the coolest house on the street.”

Wow. We’re cool — according to the kids. My fourth-grader son explained to me why: “Because we know where our electricity comes from.”

I have to admit, that is pretty cool.

Last fall, facing pressure about the absence of solar from the White House roof since the Reagan Administration took off the solar thermal panels President Carter put it, the Administration promised that the White House would have solar panels up on the roof “before the end of spring.” But as of today, June 17, 2011, the White House still doesn’t have solar panels on it.

The clock is ticking. Even with climate disruption messing up our seasons, spring still ends 20 June….

Following up on the 2009 installation of solar hot water, solar PV went on our roof in June 2010 and went active in July. Over the past year, even with two people working from home, (some) electrical heating and cooling, the solar PV has covered 80 percent of our household’s electricity use.

While Barack Obama’s daughters have reason (real reason) to believe that they live on the coolest house of their street, their father has a real chance to make it cooler with a relatively simple action: Follow in Jimmy Carter’s footsteps and put solar (back) on The White House roof.

Bill McKibben and the team began a campaign last summer for the world’s leaders to put solar on it — “it” being their own rooftops. While this won’t solve the world’s problems, this would be a powerful symbol and a step toward encouraging more political action. As part of this, McKibben and others took a Put Solar On It road-trip, driving one of the original Carter solar (hot water) panels to the White House that Ronald Reagan had taken off the roof. McKibben (and many, many others) had hope that President Obama would decide to participate in the 10 Oct 2010 work party and climb on The White House roof (hopefully with entire family) to put solar on The White House roof.

[Note from Stephen Lacey: The campaign to put solar on the White House grew organically from within the solar industry and was eventually noticed by the folks at While the idea wasn’t new, it gathered steam through a series of articles and a facebook page from a solar media strategist, Tor Valenza, who suggested that solar companies donate the equipment and time. Shortly after, the solar services company Sungevity designed a website called “Solar on the White House,” bringing in a variety of solar companies, media organizations and advocacy groups, which eventually spurred 50,000 signatures in support of the effort. When signed on, they gave the campaign a huge public boost that provided some critical mass.]

When Dominion Virginia Power (finally) authorized my home’s net metering, there was a bit of a struggle as everyone wanted to turn the system on: five sets of hands, in unison, flipped us from carbon to the power of the sun. It was an empowering moment. And, that empowerment has reached beyond my household.

Numerous friends and neighbors have made inquiries since then. Nine households, acting on my strong advice, “efficiency before renewable power,” have had energy audits and started investing in energy efficiency with hopes of putting on solar soon. They say that when a solar system goes up in the neighborhood, it drastically increases the chances that others close by will do the same. That seems to be the case.

When Michelle Obama finally got her hands dirty gardening at the White House, gardening sales boomed in the nation.

What might happen if Barack got his hands dirty (or clean?) helping put solar panels on the White House roof? Experience shows that this could have a powerful impact on increasing the development of solar around the country. Let’s get to it. This is our chance to prove some government leadership at a time of little action.

Will President Obama meet his self-imposed deadline to get solar panels back on the roof of the White House by the end of this spring? The community didn’t forget about this promise. They’ve got a petition up called: Tell Obama: Meet Your Solar Deadline!

Below, Bill McKibben speaks to Letterman about the significance of putting solar on the White House:

— A. Siegel

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