By Barbara Kessler
Green Right Now

The first family’s residence will soon be partially powered by the sun, Energy Secretary Steven Chu announced today.

The rooftop solar installation will heat hot water for the first family’s residence and supplement power for America’s most famous house. It is expected to be up and operating by the spring of 2011, showing that “American solar technologies are available, reliable and ready for installation in homes throughout the country,’’ said Nancy Sutley, Chair of the White House Council on Environmental Quality.

Solar capture technology first graced the White House back in 1979 when President Jimmy Carter ordered up an installation, while pressing the nation to become more energy independent. Those post-oil crisis panels came down during the Reagan Administration. But solar saw new light once again under President George W. Bush, when panels were installed to power a maintenance shed, heat a pool, and send some electricity going to the White House residence.

Today’s announcement comes after environmentalist Bill McKibben, founder of, and a delegation of college students met with administration staff last month to ask the White House to install a solar roof.  The group presented a panel from the Carter solar array, which had been relocated to Unity College in Maine. They left disappointed when they received no commitment from officials either on installing a solar roof or accepting one for free from Sungevity Solar. members were elated to hear the White House decision.

“We were disappointed that day that the White House wasn’t prepared to go solar, but are now very happy and honored that they took our suggestion to look into the matter seriously,” McKibben wrote  in a news statement.

“Solar panels on one house, even this house, won’t save the climate, of course. But they’re a powerful symbol to the whole nation about where the future lies. And President Obama will wake up every morning and make his toast by the power of the sun (do presidents make toast?), which will be a constant reminder to be pushing the U.S. Congress for the kind of comprehensive reform we need.”

Rhone Resch, president and CEO of the Solar Energy Industries Association, also praised the development, saying the White House move would be symbolically important.

“It’s an example of how each one of us can improve energy security, employ Americans and cut energy costs. I can speak from personal experience that taxpayers will benefit. In the four years since I’ve had solar on my house, I’ve gotten a better return on my solar system than on my 401(k),” Resch said in a statement.

“Right now, solar energy is being manufactured in the United States. It is being installed on tens of thousands of homes each year across the nation in all 50 states. And it is creating jobs for hundreds of thousands of Americans. Obama’s decision to install solar on the White House is a prominent example of how solar is working for America today,” he said.

Oakland-based Sungevity hailed the White House on it’s website, declaring “Yes, We Did!” and congratulating all involved.

DOE Secretary Chu made the announcement at the Green Gov Symposium at George Washington University.

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