Barack Obama: 'no' to solar panels on the White House roof
Campaigner Bill McKibben says solar panels would demonstrate presidential leadership on climate change
* Suzanne Goldenberg, US environment correspondent
* guardian.co.uk, Friday 10 September 2010 18.46 BST
White House The White House: Barack Obama says 'no' to solar panels on the roof: Karen Bleier/AFP
A quest to get Barack Obama to shout his commitment to solar power from the roof tops - by re-installing vintage solar panels at the White House - ended in disappointment for environmental campaigners today.
Bill McKibben, the founder of 350.org, had led a group of environmental activists to Washington in a bio-diesel van hoping to persuade Obama to re-install a set of solar panels originally put up by Jimmy Carter.
The actual Carter-era solar panels - which weigh in at 55 kilograms and are nearly 2 metres long - are out-dated now. But campaigners had hoped that the White House would embrace at least the symbolism of going solar - much like Michelle Obama kicked off her healthy food movement by planting a vegetable garden.
"Clearly, a solar panel on the White House roof won't solve climate change - and we'd rather have strong presidential leadership on energy transformation. But given the political scene, this may be as good as we'll get for the moment," McKibben said in a Washington Post comment this morning.
A California company Sungevity had offered to equip the White House with the latest technology.
But the White House declined - twitchy perhaps about inviting any comparison to one-term Democratic president Carter in the run-up to the very difficult mid-term elections in November. The White House did send three staffers to meet the campaigners.
McKibben told reporters after the meeting:
"They refused to take the Carter-era panel that we brought with us and said they would continue their deliberative process to figure out what is appropriate for the White House someday. I told them it would be nice to deliberate as fast as possible, since that is the rate at which the planet's climate is deteriorating."
The White House offered up its own version of the meeting in a statement:
"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 concluded by reiterating our continued commitment to promoting renewable energy development."
Carter held a rooftop press conference in 1979 to show off the 32 solar panels and drive home a message to Congress that it was time to get America off imported oil. The panels were used to heat water for the White House staff mess.
The message did not take though, and the panels themselves did not even survive Ronald Reagan. The panels were removed in 1986 during roof repairs. They eventually ended up at Unity College in Maine where they were used to heat water in the student cafeteria until 2005 when they were retired.
The van carrying the solar panels is now parked a few blocks away from the White House and will be rolling again on 10th October as part of the 10:10:10 international day of action on climate change.