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

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.