Turning the White House into the Green House
Despite its present day interpretation (sans the great sales at the mall), Presidents Day essentially honors not the collective group of men who have held the office, but rather George Washington, the first president of the United States. Regarded as “The Father of his Country,” Washington was celebrated for his leadership in the founding of this nation. He is often viewed as a unifying force and a resounding example of the type of leader who should occupy the White House.
I think Washington would have like President Jimmy Carter. While many may have snickered as Carter sat in front of television cameras in the late 1970s, donning a sweater and urging everyone to set their thermostats a little lower to help conserve energy, he used his position as Commander in Chief to try to instill a sense of urgency into the country, and make everyone realize a legitimate energy crisis was indeed upon them.
In 1979, President Carter had solar panels installed on the roof of the White House East Wing to heat water. The panels, and the creation of a solar research program, symbolized Carter’s intent to “move our Nation toward true energy security and abundant, readily available energy supplies.”
At the official dedication (scroll down to media player to select the video), Carter said, “a generation from now, this solar heater can either be a curiosity, a museum piece, an example of a road not taken, or it can be just a small part of one of the greatest and most exciting adventures ever undertaken by the American people — harnessing the power of the sun to enrich our lives as we move away from our crippling dependence on foreign oil.”
Carter’s initiative, which included other oil-reduction reforms, was short-lived. Less than a decade later, in 1986, President Ronald Reagan had the panels removed from the White House roof during some repairs.
Since then, there have been token attempts to make the White House more energy efficient, including the 2002 and 2003 solar installations during the Bush administration to heat the presidential pool and spa and power the maintenance shed on the White House grounds. Solar Energy Industries Association spokesman Michael Paranzino noted the “symbolic nature of these [installations] exceeds the actual kilowatts produced.”
Where would we be today if Carter’s efforts had actually triggered a substantial shift to solar, wind and other forms of renewable energy? Some experts, including Earth Day founder Denis Hayes — who was tapped by Carter to spearhead the solar initiative — think as much as 25% of the United States’ electricity supply could have been produced using renewable energy sources.
President Obama, the stage has been set. Today, more of the nation understands the importance of embracing renewable energy sources. So what do you say? How about installing a solar array — or two — to power the whole house at 1600 Pennsylvania Avenue? Maybe even generate a little extra for the DC electricity grid? You can set a strong example of how the U.S. can become a leader in using cleaner, more efficient energy. I bet George Washington would think that is a pretty good idea.