Memo To The President; Re: Your Forgotten Promise To Put Solar On The White House

by Tor “Solar Fred” Valenza, via Renewable Energy World

Memo to: President Barack Obama

Re: The Promised Solar Panels on the White House. Please advise.

Dear Mr President:

Now that the election is over, I’d like to follow up on a significant announcement Energy Secretary Chu made in October 2010. He announced that the Department of Energy would put solar hot water and solar PV systems on the roof of The White House by the end of spring 2011, and that your administration would be leading by example.

If you don’t recall Sec. Chu making that promise, or think it was a gotcha moment, or that it was somehow taken out of context, view the announcement yourself:

I think you’ll agree that this is a clear statement of intention, and it even has a due date that’s long since past. Now, I’m sure you have permitting hassles in Washington DC, but please. This type of installation has been done on 248,000 of homes and businesses across America. And solar is so reliable that it’s the default power source for all of our military and telecommunication satellites that we all use and love. So, let’s agree that it’s not the technology or reliability that’s holding up solar going on the White House roof…again.

It’s the politics. I understand. Solyndra, yada, yada, yada.

But Mr President, the public understands that Solyndra’s press attention is more about presidential politics than it is about the viability of solar. In fact, despite all of the Solyndra mud slinging unfairly hitting our solar industry of 119,000 employed workers, a September 2012 poll of likely voters shows that 92% of Americans (94% of Democrats, 89% of independents, and 75% of Republicans) still support developing more solar. The same survey showed that 91% of Democrats, 78% of independents and 63% of Republicans want the government to support solar with tax credits and other financial incentives.

And here’s the other thing you may be forgetting: To follow through with putting solar on the White House, you don’t have to cajole Congress to do anything. Like instituting the Dream Act deferred action plan and publicly stating your support for gay marriage, placing solar technology on the White House requires no permission or political persuasion of any branch of government. It’s something you can do on your own because it’s the right thing to do.

Plus, installing solar can cost tax payers nothing upfront and save them money over 20 years if you finance the White House systems with a solar power purchase agreement (solar PPA) or a solar lease. These two very common solar financing methods have put solar on many government buildings, public and private schools, as well as private businesses and homes.

So why am I bugging you? Why is this so important? Because as the leader of United States and the free world, what you use, explain, and demonstrate to the American people makes them question their old 1980’s misconceptions about solar, such as it being unaffordable or unreliable. Sadly, this was the other issue with that poll. People still think solar isn’t affordable, and that’s not the case today for most states.

Your family taking solar water-heated hot showers and typing on a laptop partially powered by solar panels would lead to more news and education about solar energy across the U.S. and the world. In fact, if (when?) you tour the White House solar installation for the media, you could have a dedicated White House solar website that shows and explains:

  • How much money the White House is saving taxpayers over the solar panel’s 25 year lifetime, given Washington DC’s utility rates.
  • How much money larger solar PV and hot water systems can save businesses in various states.
  • How much money similar solar PV and hot water systems can save homeowners in various states.
  • How much carbon is being saved.
  • The various ways to finance solar today, such as HELOCs, solar leases, solar PPAs, and (crossing my fingers) even PACE.
  • You might even include info about community solar programs that allow renters and apartment dwellers to take advantage of solar technology, even when they don’t own their home or apartment.

Of course jobs are important, and I know that the news of solar being placed on the White House would lead to media attention. That would lead to more discussions about solar affordability and to people getting more solar quotes. More quotes would lead to more people realizing that solar is affordable today, and to more solar sales. Finally, increased sales would lead to more domestic solar installation jobs and related jobs that can’t be outsourced anywhere.

In short, it’s solar time, Mr. President. You committed to putting solar on the White House two years ago for a reason. You got sidetracked by politics, and I get that, but the election is over now. It’s time to move forward…for solar, and put solar back on the White House. It really is the right thing to do, especially after Sec Chu announced it.

If readers agree with this reminder memo, please encourage the President to follow through. Share this post on Twitter, Facebook, LinkedIn and any other social network. If you want to take a tiny extra step, Tweet: @WhiteHouse Where are the solar panels, Mr. President? #ForwardForSolar. Or/And Tweet @Energy, Where are the solar panels, Sec. Chu? #ForwardForSolar

Tor Valenza aka “Solar Fred” is the founder of UnThink Solar, a strategic communications firm dedicated to helping solar companies reach solar customers through innovative messaging, branding, and social media communications. This piece was originally published at Renewable Energy World and was reprinted with permission.

23 Responses to Memo To The President; Re: Your Forgotten Promise To Put Solar On The White House

  1. Artful Dodger says:

    I’d like to see an accounting of the C02 emitted by the use of Air Force One during the Presidential campaign.

    And I’d like to see a plan to offset those C02 emissions with real carbon sequestration, paid for by the Obama for President campaign.

    That’d be some Leadership. Just like Mitt didn’t after Hurricane Issac disrupted the GOP convention.

    Ball’s in your court, Mr. President. Smack it good!

  2. prokaryotes says:

    “Forgotten Promise To Put Solar On The White House”

    Really puzzling why this has been forgotten.

  3. Dreamer says:

    I know people say they are meaningless, and lately they are filled with right-wing secessionist garbage, but I started a White House petition.

  4. Anne says:

    There was a big SNAFU related to this project. I don’t know the full skinny but it had something to do with a long bidding process, all moving forward, then a front-runner solar company misrepresenting themselves –and that put a kibosh on the whole deal. Someone in the solar community will know the details, get someone to write about it. But my understanding is POTUS made adequate effort to make good on this promise and it backfired.

  5. Timothy Hughbanks says:

    You have to be cynical enough to solve the puzzle – adopt the viewpoint of a political operative (like Axelrod). It goes like this:

    (1) Jimmy Carter put solar panels on the White House.

    (2) Republicans have, more or less successfully, propagandized the American public into accepting that Jimmy Carter was a dismal failure as a president.

    (3) Unless you want to be associated with a “failed presidency”, don’t put solar panels on the White House.

    I’m virtually certain that that is as far as the analysis of this question goes. Either Chu left the reservation when he promised to put the solar panels on, or Axelrod put this “reasoning” together afterwards – but I’m afraid that’s it.

  6. David Goldstein says:

    hmmmm…’adequate’ may be an interesting word choice…I don’t know the details and trust that your description of the snafus is accurate. The being said; he IS the president of the United States, the Climate crisis may be the most pervasive, intractable threat to life on Earth as we know it that has ever existed- perhaps an adequate response would be, if only as a symbolic gesture, to get the damn things up on the roof. Please excuse my grumpiness :)

  7. prokaryotes says:

    That’s a bit abstract reasoning… i don’t think anyone today would link WH SP’s to the Carter presidency.

    A Brief History of White House Solar Panels

    excerpt: President Ronald Reagan took office in 1981, and one of his first moves was to order the solar panels removed.

    President Barack Obama, who made environmental issues a focus of his presidency, planned to install solar panels on the White House by spring of 2011. He also announced he will also install a solar hot water heater on top of the living quarters at 1600 Pennsylvania Ave.

    “By installing solar panels on arguably the most famous house in the country, his residence, the president is underscoring that commitment to lead and the promise and importance of renewable energy in the United States,” said Nancy Sutley, chairwoman of the White House Council on Environmental Quality.

  8. Janet Matthews says:

    Right on.

  9. Timothy Hughbanks says:

    See, you’re not cynical enough. I think the right-wing noise machine would link Obama to Carter in a heartbeeat if they thought they could make it stick. I think that Axelrod would view the situation ONLY through that lens. The only explanation I can think of why Obama ignores climate change most of the time is that his political advisors are counseling him to do just that. A good part of the Democratic party nows ignores environmentalists for reasons similar to the reason that they have behaved almost as belligerently as the GOP in foreign policy. The GOP has retreaded their ‘soft on communism’ shtick into ‘soft on Islamofascism’. In the environmental arena, Democrats are frightened of being labeled as Jimmy Carter or as being like Jerry Brown I (governor moonbeam). People like Axelrod are forever warning their political clients to not seem like ‘flaky greens’ on the environment.

  10. Larry Gilman says:

    Oh come. If the President of the United States ordered the DOE or whoever handles the White House energy systems to get over the obstacles and just DO it, it would be done promptly. If it hasn’t been done, it’s because Obama hasn’t ordered it to be done. The project wouldn’t go permanently belly up because of one half-assed contractor!!

  11. Larry Gilman says:

    Isn’t this sorry little affair perfectly emblematic of what we have got from Obama on climate, and are going to continue to get? Good words, paltry actions? What’s not to understand about that, at this point?

  12. Merrelyn Emery says:

    That noise machine lost the election – remember? Reality exerts a powerful ‘spin’, ME

  13. Paul Klinkman says:

    The original solar panels that President Carter put on the White House and that President Reagan pointedly removed were sold off to a college, which is using them. These same solar panels are still in working order and are available if President Obama wants to pointedly put them back onto their original mountings.

  14. Timothy Hughbanks says:

    Thanks for that link, prokaryotes! ROFL. Seems like it’s more than just me who think Obama has been listening too much to a certain political advisor! Our host, JR, is just another teacher who has instructed me in the fine art of figuring out why politicians do what they do.

  15. Timothy Hughbanks says:


    I never said that Axelrod was right, I just said that I thought he was responsible. If you read the Mother Jones item prokaryotes linked too, apparently our host thinks so too.

  16. Merrelyn Emery says:

    “Would link Obama to Carter” – so what? You are attributing too much power to them, ME

  17. Timothy Hughbanks says:

    Surely you don’t deny the the right-wing noise machine has successfully demonized Carter? Mitt Romney is a smarmy, unlikeable, vacillating creep whose lack of empathy for the overwhelming majority of the electorate oozes from every one of his pores. His nauseating aura of aristocratic entitlement rivals Marie Antoinette. The right wing noise machine put him within 3% of the White House. That’s pretty powerful.

  18. Merrelyn Emery says:

    The majority saw through the noise and the cynicism, it wasn’t even close. Wouldn’t you be better employed expending your energy working towards lowering GHG emissions or international cooperation? ME

  19. Dr.A.Jagadeesh says:

    I am sure President Barack Obama goes for Solar PV on the White House.Former President Jimmy Carter installed a solar-powered heating system on the White House roof in 1979.

    Dr.A.Jagadeesh Nellore(AP),India

  20. RockyRacoon says:

    Write Chu and see what he has to say about it and tell him how you feel about it so he can remind the President that he is making him look like an asshole for no reason and that this is a golden opportunity etcetc

  21. RockyRacoon says:

    He should R&R the whole place a showcase and every other fed building. What’s more all government services should use industrial hemp wherever it is possible and reasonable to do so. That is less cost and less pollution. Sometime maybe even more costs but the investment in saving lives due to health benefits less pollution make it well worth it.