President Jimmy Carter and first lady Rosalynn Carter climb to the White House roof to celebrate the installation of solar-energy panels there on this day in 1979.
Carter presided over a nation still suffering from the fallout of the 1973-74 Organization of Petroleum Exporting Countries (OPEC) oil embargo. Carter, a proponent of alternative and sustainable energy sources, put into practice what he preached and, in June 1979, had a $28,000 solar-heating system installed on the White House roof. The system consisted of 32 photovoltaic panels that generated enough energy to provide hot water for the entire White House. During his term Carter also had an energy-efficient wood-burning stove installed in the drafty White House residential quarters.
In 1986, President Reagan had the solar panels removed and put into a federal storage facility in Virginia, stating that the energy crisis that had affected both foreign and domestic policy during Carter’s term would not be a factor during his own. Both the environmental organization Greenpeace and a college in Maine asked to have the solar panels after they were taken down. As an October 2004 Associated Press article reported, Greenpeace’s request for the panels, which they wanted to use in a homeless shelter, was ultimately rejected, and in 1992, the conservation-minded Unity College of Maine installed them to use for the generation of hot water in the student dining hall. Former President Carter sent a congratulatory note to the college saying he was glad the panels would be of some use.
By 2004, the solar panels had worn out. Unity College kept one of the panels for “historical significance,” donated another panel to the Smithsonian Institute and offered the rest for sale.