We Did It! Solar on the White House


Nearly three years after they committed to do so, the Obama administration is installing solar panels on the White House this week. The administration knows that this is an important symbol to an America desperate for climate leadership. In fact, we told them that in person when a crew of Unity College students teamed up with Bill McKibben and 350.org to launch an epic solar road trip from Unity College to Washington in 2010. Along the way, we rallied the troops in Boston, New York, and DC, before delivering a petition of over 40,000 signatures to the White House Council on Environmental Quality with a simple message for Obama: put solar back on the White House and show real leadership on meaningful climate policy.

Courtyard Panels

Since 1991, Unity College has been the proud steward of the solar hot water panels that were installed on the White House roof by the Jimmy Carter administration in 1979. Those panels were removed during the Reagan administration in 1986 and languished in government storage until Unity’s Peter Marbach secured them and brought them to Unity College. Sixteen of those panels heated water on our own cafeteria roof for over twelve years and many others have been restored by energy lab students and Professor Mick Womersley for museum loan and public display.

Two of those restored panels were featured in the 2010 documentary A Road Not Taken, which followed Unity College (now) alums Sara Trunzo and Jason Reynolds on a solar road trip of their own. The film — by Swiss artists Christina Hemauer and Roman Keller — uses the delivery of those panels to the National History Museum in DC and the Carter Center in Atlanta to explore the unrealized hope for a renewable American energy future.

This current White House solar installation brings us closer to that future. Symbols are important, and solar on the White House is a stirring symbol of climate commitment from the top. May this public statement and the President’s full Climate Action Plan portend even bolder climate leadership to come; our students demand and deserve no less.  Thank you, Mr. President, for heeding their call.

J on “A Road Not Taken”

Check out the UCSustainability YouTube channel for some footage we shot from the road during the recent Solar Road Trip.  Here, Jason Reynolds (’06) tells us a little bit more about his first Solar Road Trip which was highlighted in the film A Road Not Taken — a documentary exploration of Jimmy Carter-era energy policy.

The film will screen at the Strand Theatre in Rockland as part of the Camden International Film Festival on Sunday, October 3 at 12:30 — just on the heels of Jason’s birthday.  Happy Birthday, J!

Unity College in “A Road Not Taken”

In an email announcement to the Unity College community today, Mark Tardif, our Associate Director of College Communications, reported on the upcoming premier of A Road Not Taken:

“Dear Unity College Student, Faculty or Staff Member,

In 2005, an Associated Press story about the array of solar panels formerly atop the White House during the Carter administration that were brought to Unity College in the early 1990’s caught the attention of two Swiss filmmakers.

Christina Hemauer and Roman Keller of Zurich, Switzerland, contacted Associate Professor and Interim VP for Academic Affairs Mick Womersley.  A dialogue between the filmmakers and Associate Professor Womersley led to filming of a documentary about the panels.  Two Unity College students are prominently featured in this documentary, Sara Trunzo ’08 and Jason Reynolds ’05.  Also featured from Unity College are President Mitch Thomashow, Associate Professor Mick Womersley, and retired Professor David Purdy.

The theme of this documentary, A Road Not Taken, explores the visionary energy policy of President Jimmy Carter, who greatly reduced oil imports and put America on a path to achieve 20% of its energy from renewable sources by the year 2000.  The installation of solar panels atop the White House by President Carter was a symbolic gesture of hope that America would not turn from a forward thinking energy policy.

Why this direction to ensure America’s long term energy prosperity was reversed by the administration of Ronald Reagan is a central question of the documentary.  President Reagan ordered the solar panels removed from the White House and put in government storage, where they were eventually retrieved and brought to Unity College.

A Road Not Taken is a rare documentary that connects historical fact with present day reality.  This documentary also features an exclusive 2007 interview with President Carter during which he offered insights into his energy policy that had never before been revealed.”

The documentary will have its US premier at the DC Environmental Film Festival in March.


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