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Obama Administration Fails On Promise To Put Solar Panels On White House Roof By June 21

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STEVEN CHU
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WASHINGTON -- Despite a promise from a top Obama administration official that solar panels and a solar water heater would be installed on the White House before the start of the summer, neither have yet been installed on the White House roof as of Tuesday, the date of the summer solstice.

"The White House will lead by example," United States Secretary of Energy Steven Chu said during remarks at the GreenGov Symposium on Oct. 5, 2010. "I'm pleased to announce that by the end of this spring, there will be solar panels that convert sunlight to energy and a solar hot water heater on the roof of the White House."

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On Monday evening, the Department of Energy posted a blog post on the agency's website with a response on the delay.

"The Energy Department remains on the path to complete the White House solar demonstration project, in keeping with our commitment, and we look forward to sharing more information -- including additional details on the timing of this project -- after the competitive procurement process is completed," wrote Ramamoorthy Ramesh, director of the SunShot Initiative and Solar Energy Technologies Program at DOE.

The date of the solar panel installation might not be decided until September or later, according to Brad Johnson of ThinkProgress.

"The Rooftop Solar Challenge, part of the Department of Energy Sunshot Initiative to accelerate the deployment of solar technologies, is designed to encourage local and regional governments to improve market conditions for rooftop solar installations," wrote Johnson. "The Sunshot Initiative program was only announced in April of this year, and the final date for submissions to the rooftop challenge is August 31. There is no date established for when the 'competitive procurement process' is to be completed."

The Department of Energy is making federal investments in solar, Johnson's post said, including millions of dollars in funding to companies that are working to develop more cost-effective solar manufacturing processes and technologies.

One of these companies, 1366 Technologies, will receive a $150 million loan for the domestic development of its breakthrough solar process. Another loan totaling $1.6 billion will go toward a project in California involving one of the world's largest solar thermal plants.

Still, these generous donations aren't enough for solar activists like Bill McKibben, who founded the grassroots movement 350.org and has been fighting for solar panels to be placed on the White House roof through his Put Solar On It campaign.

"We took [Chu's 2010 speech] as a great victory and thanked the White House for doing the right thing for the right reasons. It's not anywhere near as important as passing legislation or anything, but it's not completely insignificant. It didn't occur to us that they might not actually keep their promise," McKibben said. "The date was nine months in the future, and nine months is a long time. It's long enough to have a baby, and it's long enough to put up a solar panel."

The Put Solar On It campaign features an online petition that McKibben said over 20,000 people signed just last week. He noted that the campaigns efforts have previously influenced Indian Parliament and Maldivian President Mohamed Nasheed, who had solar panels placed on the roof of his official residence, the the Mulee Aage.

McKibben noted that solar panels at 1600 Pennsylvania Avenue weren't an entirely new idea. In June 1979, Jimmy Carter became the first president to install solar panels, remarking that he thought the solar devices would remain a useful fixture at the White House well into the 2000s. But when Ronald Reagan took office, he brought in a new set of ideas about energy and quickly ridding the White House roof of the solar devices.

Despite the set back, McKibben said 350.org and its supporters would continue to fight for solar panels on the White House roof.

"Clearly it's disheartening, because when they want to, this administration gets things done ... much harder things than this. It doesn't require SEAL Team Six to put up the solar panels," he said. "I guess the lesson is you gotta keep pressing them, because only when you press them as hard as you finally can do you get anywhere."

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