Turning the White House into the Green House

Despiteits present day interpretation (sans the great sales at the mall),Presidents Day essentially honors not the collective group of men whohave held the office, but rather George Washington, the first presidentof the United States.

Regarded as “The Father of his Country,”Washington was celebrated for his leadership in the founding of thisnation. He is often viewed as a unifying force and a resounding exampleof the type of leader who should occupy the White House. I think Washington would have like President Jimmy Carter. Whilemany may have snickered as Carter sat in front of television cameras inthe late 1970s, donning a sweater and urging everyone to set their thermostats a little lowerto help conserve energy, he used his position as Commander in Chief totry to instill a sense of urgency into the country, and make everyonerealize a legitimate energy crisis was indeed upon them.

In 1979, President Carter had solar panels installed on the roof ofthe White House East Wing to heat water. The panels, and the creationof a solar research program, symbolized Carter’s intent to “move ourNation toward true energy security and abundant, readily availableenergy 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 acuriosity, a museum piece, an example of a road not taken, or it can bejust a small part of one of the greatest and most exciting adventuresever undertaken by the American people — harnessing the power of thesun to enrich our lives as we move away from our crippling dependenceon foreign oil.”

Carter’s initiative, which included other oil-reduction reforms, wasshort-lived. Less than a decade later, in 1986, President Ronald Reaganhad the panels removed from the White House roof during some repairs.

Since then, there have been token attempts to make the White Housemore energy efficient, including the 2002 and 2003 solar installationsduring the Bush administration to heat the presidential pool and spaand power the maintenance shed on the White House grounds. Solar EnergyIndustries Association spokesman Michael Paranzino noted the “symbolicnature of these [installations] exceeds the actual kilowatts produced.”

Where would we be today if Carter’s efforts had actually triggered asubstantial shift to solar, wind and other forms of renewable energy?Some experts, including Earth Day founder Denis Hayes — who was tappedby Carter to spearhead the solar initiative — think as much as 25% ofthe United States’ electricity supply could have been produced usingrenewable energy sources.

President Obama, the stage has been set. Today, more of the nationunderstands the importance of embracing renewable energy sources. Sowhat do you say? How about installing a solar array — or two — to powerthe whole house at 1600 Pennsylvania Avenue? Maybe even generate alittle extra for the DC electricity grid? You can set a strong exampleof how the U.S. can become a leader in using cleaner, more efficientenergy. I bet George Washington would think that is a pretty good idea.

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