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White House is going solar, again

New equipment being installed on the roof will provide electricity and hot water for the first family's residence. Reagan scrapped the first system in the 1980s.

October 05, 2010|By Kim Geiger, Los Angeles Times

Reporting from Washington — More than two decades after President Reagan had a solar water heating system removed from the White House roof, President Obama will become the first to use solar energy as a means for powering the first family's White House residence.

Plans to install solar panels and a solar water heater on the roof of the White House residence were announced Tuesday by Energy Secretary Steven Chu and Nancy Sutley, who heads the Council on Environmental Quality, as part of a larger Energy Department effort to portray solar power as reliable and accessible.

Solar panels provided hot water for West Wing offices under Presidents Carter and Reagan, but Reagan had the panels removed in the 1980s.

Since Obama's election, advocates of solar energy have hounded the administration to return solar energy to the White House. This year, a group led by environmentalist and author Bill McKibben unearthed one of the Carter-era panels, which were stored at Unity College near Bangor, Maine, and attempted to deliver it to the White House. White House officials agreed to meet with McKibben but did not accept the panel.

An Oakland-based solar equipment provider, Sungevity, had also launched a campaign urging the White House to install solar panels. The company estimated that installing solar equipment capable of generating 80% of the energy consumed by the White House residence would cost $107,900 and would save roughly $1,610 in monthly utility costs.

The announcement from the White House was timed to coincide with the one-year anniversary of the president's signing of an executive order that directed federal agencies to set policies aimed at conserving energy and curbing greenhouse gas emissions.

"President Obama has said the federal government has to lead by example in creating opportunity and jobs in clean energy," Sutley, former deputy mayor for energy and environment in Los Angeles, said in a statement.

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