After years of urging by climate change activists and the solar industry, the White House confirmed Thursday that American-made solar panels are being installed on the first family's residence, the first time that solar panels have adorned the iconic building in 25 years. Environmentalists and solar advocates applauded the move.
"Better late than never -- in truth, no one should ever have taken down the panels Jimmy Carter put on the roof way back in 1979," said Bill McKibben, founder of the environmental group 350.org. "But it's very good to know that once again the country's most powerful address will be drawing some of that power from the sun."
President Jimmy Carter installed solar panels in 1979, but they were taken down by President Ronald Reagan in 1986.
Oakland-based Sungevity, a solar financier and installer, led the charge along with 350.org to push the Obama administration to go solar. On Earth Day 2010, Sungevity co-founder Danny Kennedy presented President Barack Obama with the offer of a free solar array for the White House.
In fall 2010, then-Secretary of Energy Stephen Chu announced that the White House would install solar panels by the end of spring 2011. But that deadline passed, raising questions about whether the administration would ever make good on its commitment.
"Today, President Obama's rhetoric of the past several years finally matches reality," Sungevity's Kennedy said Thursday. "I applaud the president for his actions but my praise is much more resounding for the hundreds of thousands of American households whose example he has followed."
Solar power currently generates enough electricity to power more than 1.3 million homes, according to the Solar Energy Industries Association. In Northern California, more than 90,000 PG&E customers have solar power.
The solar installation is part of an energy retrofit on the White House that includes the installation of energy-saving equipment such as updated building controls and variable-speed fans, according to a White House official.
There was no announcement as to which solar company was providing the panels. San Jose-based SunPower (SPWR), a leading American manufacturer of rooftop solar panels, said Thursday it is not the provider. Another contender would be Arizona-based FirstSolar. Both companies make the bulk of their panels overseas but maintain small manufacturing lines in the United States.
Currently, there's more than 8,500 megawatts of solar electricity capacity installed in the United States, and more than 30 large, utility-scale solar power plants are under construction, according to SEIA.
Contact Dana Hull at 408-920-2706. Follow her at Twitter.com/danahull.