White House goes green with solar panels

Three years after first pledging to put solar panels atop the White House, workers on Thursday began installing the renewable energy equipment on the president’s home.

A White House official described the move as part of a broader energy retrofit, designed to boost overall efficiency inside the historic building.

Environmentalists, who first extracted the White House’s commitment to go green in 2010, praised the move, saying it was better late than never.

“It’s a good sign,” said climate activist Bill McKibben, who founded the group 350.org. “Like many folks, they’re starting close to home.”

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Former Energy Secretary Steven Chu had pledged the solar panels would be in place at 1600 Pennsylvania Ave., by spring 2011. When that deadline came and went, Obama administration officials blamed the government’s competitive procurement process.

The U.S.-made solar panels being installed on the White House roof will convert sunlight directly into electricity to help power the residence.

But this won’t be the first time the White House has been powered by the sun. Former President Jimmy Carter first installed solar panels, but they were removed seven years later under the Reagan administration.

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It was not immediately clear whether the project would also include a solar hot-water heater that was part of the plans announced in 2010.

Some environmentalists said they hoped the move was a preview of more substantive policy changes to come. In particular, activists want the Obama administration to reject a permit for TransCanada Corp.’s proposes Keystone XL pipeline, which they say would expand the marketplace for an oil-like hydrocarbon that is harvested in Alberta using more energy-intensive techniques than alternative crudes.

“We will see if they really get the structural issues when the Keystone decision is announced,” McKibben said.

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