Solar Panels on White House Roof? Not Yet.

To much fanfare back in 1979, the Carter administration installed solar panels on the White House roof. Five years later, President Reagan had them taken down.

Last fall, the Obama administration pledged to re-install the solar panels as part of a demonstration project on solar electricity. Specifically, on October 5, 2010 Energy Secretary Steven Chu told the GreenGov symposium,  “I’m pleased to announce that, by the end of this spring, there will be solar panels and a solar hot water heater on the roof of the White House.”   Watch.

Needless to say, tomorrow is the last day of spring and the White House roof is still solar-less.

The website Put Solar on the White House is predictably displeased. founder Bill McKibben, who led a campaign last fall to convince President Obama to install solar on the White House, reacted to the administration’s failure to meet it’s deadline:

“Well, we don’t have solar panels on the White House, but we do have a better sense of how hard you have to push to get even small change made,” said McKibben. “This was a no-brainer–the Republicans couldn’t filibuster it, the oil companies weren’t fighting it, and it still didn’t get done when they said it would.”

Over the last week, and CREDO Action have collected over 100,000 signatures on a letter asking President Obama to meet his deadline and over 700 supporters have called the White House directly. So far, the administration has declined repeated requests for a comment on when the installation will take place.

The installation will not be the first time panels graced the roof of 1600 Pennsylvania Avenue. On June 21st, 1979, exactly 32 years ago today, President Jimmy Carter dedicated a dedicate a $28,000 solar-heating system to provide hot water, saying “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.”

In 1986, President Reagan removed the panels and a number of them ended up at Unity College, a small environmental college in Maine. Last fall, McKibben and a group of Unity students drove a Carter-era panel back to the White House with a request for new panels to be installed on the roof. The group was initially rejected, but a month later, the administration announced panels would be up by this spring.

Today, McKibben vowed to keep up the pressure on the Administration to lead by example, “Barack Obama told his supporters after the election that he needed constant pressure–from now on we’ll do our best to provide it, and on issues even more significant than this.”

A new Yale survey shows that shows that support for clean energy is almost unanimous with 91 percent of Americans saying that “developing sources of clean energy should be a very high (32%), high (35%), or medium (24%) priority for the president and Congress.”

I don’t know what the hold up could be about. Frankly, it is bizarre that Secretary Chu would make great hay about it (and give himself a deadline) if it was not going to happen.  Still, on the sustainable living front, the White House does deserve great credit for very quickly installing an vegetable garden on the White House lawn — and the first lady has been particularly outspoken about the benefits of urban gardening. So why not start using those solar water heaters?