Commentary: Going solar

More than 30 years after former President Jimmy Carter installed solar panels on the roof of the White House, President Barack Obama might have a better chance of installing panels that will stay put.

The Department of Energy announced this month that the White House soon will have solar panels to supply the first family's hot water and some of its electricity. Obama essentially hopes to set a good example by employing clean energy - and saving money in the process.

The White House Office of Energy and Climate Change Policy estimates that the panels could produce about 20,000 kilowatt-hours per year in electricity. That amounts to about $2,300 a year based on commercial energy rates for Washington.

Environmentalists and clean-energy advocates hope the buzz from this demonstration project will give solar energy a boost. They also hope Obama has better luck than Carter did.

Carter, an early advocate of reducing the nation's dependence on foreign oil, also hoped to set an example in 1979 by installing solar panels on the White House roof to heat water in the staff kitchen. But Carter lost the election to Ronald Reagan in 1980.

Reagan took the solar panels down in 1986, when the roof was being repaired. But not coincidentally, he also let the solar tax benefit expire, and the budding solar industry went belly-up.

Those solar panels were shipped to Unity College in Maine, where they still heat the water for the school's cafeteria.

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