By Beth Daley, Globe Staff
You may not remember this but in 1979, President Jimmy Carter installed solar panels on the roof of the White House West Wing.
The panels, which were used to heat water for the staff eating area, were a symbol of a new solar strategy that Carter said was going to "move our nation toward true energy security and abundant, readily available energy supplies."
But in 1986, President Ronald Reagan took the solar panels down when the White House roof was being repaired. They were never reinstalled.
From the film A Road Not Taken
In 1990, the panels were retrieved from government storage and brought to the environmentally-minded Unity College about an hour southeast of Bangor, Maine. There, with help from Academy Award winning actress Glenn Close, the panels were refurbished and used to heat water in the cafeteria until 2005. They are still there, although they don't work anymore.
Now, a documentary film has been made about the panels, using them as a backdrop to explore American oil dependency and the political lack of will to pursue alternative energy. Swiss directors Christina Hemaner and Roman Keller follow the route of the panels in the hour-long film "A Road Not Taken."
In the movie, the two took one solar panel from Unity, placed it in the back of two students' 1990 Dodge Ram pick-up truck that was retrofitted to run on vegetable oil and delivered it to the Jimmy Carter Library & Museum in Atlanta. Keller was even able to hook up the solar panel to the pick-up truck to heat hot water for a shower before the institution took formal possession of the panel last year.
The film will be shown on July 13 and 18th as part the Maine International Film Festival in Waterville. For more information go to http://www.miff.org/about/
In 1979, Carter warned "a generation from now, this solar heater can either be a curiosity, a
museum piece, an example of a road not taken, or it can be a small part of one of the greatest and most exciting adventures ever undertaken by the American people; harnessing the power of the Sun to enrich our lives as we move away from our crippling dependence on foreign oil."
It turns out Carter's warning was at least partially correct: One of his solar panels is now museum piece.