White House solar panels: PR stunt?

Obama is bringing solar panels back to the roof of the White House. Will they last longer than Jimmy Carter's?

The White House was briefly outfitted with solar power during the Carter administration.
(Image credit: CC BY: Chris Christner)

President Obama is putting solar panels on the roof of the White House in early 2011, for the first time since Jimmy Carter installed 32 solar panels to heat the West Wing's water in 1979 — and Ronald Reagan took them down a few years later. Obama's solar installation will heat the residential quarters' water and provide a small amount of electricity, cutting about $3,000 a year from the White House energy bill. Is this "a symbol of American commitment to a clean energy future," as Energy Secretary Steven Chu says — or a meaningless pre-election sop to dispirited environmentalists? (Watch the announcement)

This is a costly stunt: Assuming Obama isn't paying for this "symbolic" upgrade out of his own pocket, says Nicolas Loris at The Heritage Foundation, "installing solar panels on the White House roof seems like a political stunt." Solar energy isn't cost-effective, and using taxpayer dollars to "advance a political agenda" isn't virtuous. It's Obama "channeling his inner Jimmy Carter" at the worst political moment for him to do so.

"White House solar installation symbolic of solar energy push"

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There's a longer tradition than Carter: If Obama is channeling Carter, so was George W. Bush, says Chris Good in The Atlantic. Bush not only "uses solar panels on his Crawford ranch in Texas" but he also quietly installed some on three smaller structures on the White House grounds. The main building's roof is trickier: Given the logistics of adding panels to "the nation's number-one homeland-security priority," it's no wonder this has been in the works for months.

"Solar panels to return to the White House roof"

Either way, Obama bumbled the politics: By waiting this long to unveil its big, welcome solar push, says Andrew Leonard in Salon, the White House has both "managed to bum environmentalists out" and still "invite the Carter-Obama comparison" it was presumably trying so "repulsively" to avoid when it turned away, crying, a group of students carrying one of Carter's panels in hopes of having it reinstalled. "That's just bungled political management."

"Obama's White House solar panel stumble"

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