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By Samuel R. Avro on Jan 29, 2009 with no responses

Will We See A Solar Powered White House?

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President Jimmy Carter inspecting a solar heating panel installed on the roof of the White House in 1979.

In 1979, after a major oil crisis brought about by the Iranian Revolution, then-President Jimmy Carter installed solar panels on the roof of the White House West Wing in a symbolic demonstration of America weaning itself off its dependence on foreign oil.

Nearly 30 years later the country is at the same critical juncture of needing to receive more alternative energy instead of its reliance on the volatile prices of crude oil which hit a record high above $147 in July of last year.

With a new man at the helm, a President who has repeatedly stated his desire to transform America’s energy, brings the possibility of perhaps another symbolic gesture which would put a rubber stamp on his stated aim.

In his first weekly address since moving into 1600 Pennsylvania Avenue, President Barack Obama said: “We will double our capacity to generate alternative sources of energy like wind, solar and biofuels over the next three years.”

While powering the White House with renewable energy won’t make a dent in reality, it would, however, have the potential of starting a chain-effect which would cause businesses and private individuals to follow suit. With the immense popular approval that President Obama currently enjoys –and the media attention that comes with it– showing his seriousness in a lead by example approach can do wonders.

Carter’s solar panels, which were used to heat water, were later removed by the Reagan administration in the 1980′s. A documentary covering that solar project, from the installation to its removal, is currently in the works.

To be sure, the White House actually does have solar panels currently in use. Though installed under the radar without much fanfare, under the Bush administration three different solar installations were completed  in 2002. Two of them –one which feeds electricity into the White House grid, the other to heat water for landscaping usage– were erected on the National Park Service maintenance building located in the southwest corner of the estate. The third one was installed on the White House cabana and feeds electricity to the cabana and outdoor swimming pool which is situated nearby.

The White House cabana with a solar water heating system which was installed in 2002.

However, the Bush administration took the wrong approach with a project that could have the attention on a major scale.

When asked why there hasn’t been a bigger splash made about these installations, James Doherty, an architect with the National Park Service White House Liaison Office, said that the Park Service doesn’t like to advertise what it does at the White House. “We call it ‘silent stewardship,’” he said. “We have always sought to stay in the background and not compete with what the White House does.”

If Barack Obama has proven anything, it’s his ability get his message out to the masses via the latest technological means. Conducting a wide-ranging solar installation on the White House grounds –along with the necessary media attention– may go a long way in convincing some U.S. residents to view renewable energy as an attainable objective.