By Beth Daley
Itís been almost a generation since solar panels President Carter installed on the White House roof were removed during renovations. Now, a group of climate activists armed with one of the original panels are on a road trip to the White House to get President Obama to put them back up.
UPDATE, 9/11, from Bill McKibben: "I just walked out of a disappointing meeting with the White House: they refused to accept the Carter solar panel we came to Washington to deliver and said that they would continue their "deliberative process" to discuss putting solar panels back on the White House roof."
Today, 350.org found Bill McKibben, City Year founder Alan Khazei and Boston energy chief Jim Hunt joined Unity College students from Maine who are driving the panel to 1600 Pennsylvania Avenue in a bio-diesel van as part of a "Put Solar On It" campaign. The group met at the solar-powered Park Street School on Beacon Hill to show off the panel and launch the road trip.
ďSolar panels on the White House will remind every visitor to Washington that every roof in America should have solar panels for electricity and hot water on them,Ē said McKibben. ďThe Presidentís panels will do as much good as the wonderful organic garden that the First Lady planted on the South Lawn.Ē
The panels, which were used to heat water for the White House 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.
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.
A documentary film has even 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 Hemauer and Roman Keller follow the route of the panels in the hour-long film "A Road Not Taken."
n the movie, the two took two solar panels 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 several years ago. In 2009, the National Museum of American History accepted the second panel for it's collection.
Now, the strange journey of the panels is about to start a new chapter. McKibben is challenging President Obama to install his new set of panels on October 10 as part of 350.orgís 10/10/10 Global Work Party, a day when millions of people across the planet will be getting to work on climate solutions.
Over 30,000 people have signed a letter urging President Obama to install a new set of panels at the campaignís PutSolarOn.It website. The site will provide live updates from the road and a chance for the public to interact with the road trip participants.
(Photos courtesy of 350.org)
A previous version spelled Christina Hemauer's name incorrectly.
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