Solar Power at the White House: What Took So Long?

Dear Mr. President:

It has been over three years since I last corresponded with you. I first wrote to you in April of 2010 and asked that you re-install solar on the White House. Now, over three years later, you are finally doing it, and in the process you are making a strong statement to the world -- that the future of energy will come through renewable sources, with solar at the forefront. You have taken a significant step -- both symbolically and practically -- and I thank you for having the courage to take it.

But, Mr. President, even as I applaud you, I present you with a question: Why the heck did it take you so long? And more importantly, cannot you do more?

During your first presidential campaign you pledged support for solar energy, and three years ago when we met at an Earth Day function on the White House lawn, you actually said it was a good idea to put solar panels on 1600 Pennsylvania Avenue. I realize that home improvement projects can sometimes take a while to implement -- and I understand that those on the residence of our Commander-in-Chief can take longer -- but forgive me if I wonder what caused such a delay given your historically strong rhetoric in support of solar power.

In making the move to install solar on the White House you have enlisted yourself and your lovely family into an ever-growing solar movement called The Rooftop Revolution of which I am also a proud member. Our movement counts many business executives, environmentalists and political leaders in our ranks, but for the most part, it is made up of regular citizens who recognize the win-win-win proposition of solar power -- that it saves them money, it creates jobs and it is better for the environement. Welcome Mr. President... but again, why the heck did it take you so long? And again, cannot you do more?

I want to make you aware of a few of the movement's achievements since 2010, when you and then Energy Secretary Chu committed to re-install solar panels on your house, AKA the people's house, AKA The White House:

The cost of a solar panels has fallen from ~$2 a watt to $0.75/w.

  • The number of home solar installations in the U.S. has more than doubled.

  • The solar industry has created over 30,000 new jobs in U.S. -- the bulk of which are downstream (i.e., not in the manufacturing sector) and cannot be outsourced.

  • We have prevented tons upon tons of carbon pollution from entering our atmosphere.

    The most important fact: Our great nation is moving toward clean and renewable energy and there is no turning back. I had hoped back in 2010 that you would be a strong leader of the solar movement, but given how things have transpired, I have come to believe that the solar movement actually led you.

    Please do not get me wrong, Mr. President. Again I am pleased and appreciative that you have joined the hundreds of thousands of American households before you that have harnessed the power of the sun, but I implore you to do more as the leader of our United States.

    At times in your presidency you have acted thoughtfully and courageously on other issues important to the American people, and now I am asking you again to lead the effort to advance solar.

    For example, now that you have honored your commitment to put solar back on the White House, how about mandating the installation of solar panels on all federal buildings? The Department of Defense is leading the charge with solar installations for military housing, but what about the thousands of U.S. Post Offices throughout the country?

    Your Federal Housing Finance Agency has quashed the very successful Property-Assessed Clean Energy program in most places. That innovative program had allowed cities and counties to loan money to homeowners for solar installations and to recoup the financing through property tax - the same basic model that paid for our sewage infrastructure to spread across America. But now in the 21st Century for some reason, that type of model does not work - why? Please fix that.

    And cannot you do more to help local jurisdictions and grid operators come to a better understanding of what a modern electricity network should look like -- in supposedly the most technologically advanced nation on earth -- so they streamline the installation and integration of solar power into the grid? Other nations install far more clean, green, affordable solar -- an American invention -- faster than we do because of our bureaucracy.

    Speaking of other nations, please stop the sabre-rattling with China in trade talks and instead embrace the race for more, not less, low-cost solar panels. Lowering the cost of solar panels supports job creation since most solar jobs fall outside of the manufacturing sector. Protectionism Mr. President? Really? This should not be the response when we need to do more, not less, to protect our fragile environment, and when we can do so in a way that creates jobs. Solar does that.

    And speaking of protectionism how about you weigh-in on the debate in states like Arizona, where monopoly utilities are trying to shut out their solar competition? There are 8,000 jobs on the line that can be saved so long as solar panels are allowed to be installed in Phoenix and sell their electricity into the grid. You would think that would make sense in a state famous for its love of the sun as well as free markets and consumer choice! Perhaps you can help the technocrats of the Grand Canyon State see the light that falls abundantly on their heads. How about urging your constituency there to sign the petition that will help do that?

    Mr. President, you will be back on the civilian side of life in as much time as it has taken you to put solar on the White House. I urge you to use your remaining time in office wisely, and to the benefit of the nation you were elected to lead twice.

    You are not the first president to put solar panels on the White House. Jimmy Carter did it during his presidency, only to have them removed by his successor, Ronald Reagan. Will you be the president who leads the charge into a prosperous, secure, clean energy future? Or will you prevaricate and let politics dictate your actions?

    On behalf of the hundreds of thousands -- and soon to be millions -- of our fellow Rooftop Revolutionaries, I welcome you to our solar movement. We are all watching, waiting and hoping for more of your leadership.

    Thank you for your recent support of solar, Mr. President. Repeat. Please. Faster.

    Shine on,

    Danny Kennedy

    Co-Founder, Sungevity, Inc. and Author of Rooftop Revolution, How Solar Power Can Save Our Economy - and Our Planet - From Dirty Energy