After a week-long road trip from Maine to Washington, D.C. to return one of the original Carter White House solar panels and offer it to President Obama, author and activist Bill McKibben, along with three students from Unity College, walked away from a meeting with Administration officials still holding that panel they hauled half-way down the Eastern Seaboard.
Administration officials essentially said 'Thanks, but no thanks' to the the Carter-era solar panel and an offer for a new solar PV system for the White House, after 48 hours of back and forth about whether they would even meet with McKibben and the Unity College students,
"I just walked out of a disappointing meeting with the White House," wrote McKibben in an email on Friday afternoon, "they refused to accept the Carter solar panel we came to Washington to deliver." McKibben added that the White House said "they would continue their 'deliberative process' to discuss putting solar panels back on the White House roof."
"Well, we're done deliberating," said McKibben who is now working with his 350.org to organize an international day of climate action on 10/10/10 called the Global Work Party. "When Pakistan is under water, Russia is on fire, and millions of people are ready for clean energy jobs, it's not time to deliberate: it's time to get to work," he said.
The New York Times reports that The White House issued a statement after the meeting that focused less on the gift and proposed solar upgrade and more on President Obama's bigger picture renewable energy achievements:
“Representatives from the White House met with the group to discuss President Obama’s unprecedented commitment to renewable energy including more than $80 billion in the generation of renewable energy sources, expanding manufacturing capacity for clean energy technology, advancing vehicle and fuel technologies, and building a bigger, better, smarter electric grid, all while creating new, sustainable jobs.
They also discussed the Obama administration’s work to: establish more stringent energy efficiency standards, make the federal government more sustainable (and the recent announcement on the 56 agency sustainability plans which include utilizing renewable energy across the federal government), set the first ever joint fuel economy/greenhouse gas emissions standards for cars and trucks, and eliminate key barriers in the home retrofit industry. They concluded by reiterating our continued commitment to promoting renewable energy development.”
But according to the Solar on the White House blog, the outcome may not have been a huge surprise: "As we expected (but secretly hoped wouldn’t be the case), the White House didn’t commit to … well, anything. We tossed them a big, fat soft ball to hit out of the park and they just watched it float on by."
The solar panels, first installed by the Carter Administration in 1979, were removed when the White House roof was being repaired in 1986 during the Reagan Administration. At the same time, funding for research into renewable energy all but dried up.
In 1992, Unity College in Maine acquired the panels under the government surplus donations program. For the next 12 years, the school used the solar panels to provide hot water to its cafeteria and to periodically use for student experiments.
The offer from McKibben and others was not only for a single 31-year-old solar hot water panel--that panel is more symbolic than anything--it would would also come with an entire solar PV array donated by solar company, Sungevity.
If Obama does eventually decide to put solar PV on the White House, the panels would go along with those installed during a 2002 renovation, when George W. Bush installed a solar system on top of the cabana to heat the pool and spa.
"As for the Carter solar panel," says McKibben, "it's going to stay in Washington for now, ready for President Obama to come take it home."
From the film, A Road Not Taken:
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Photos: Jimmy Carter Library; Put Solar on the White House