The White House Sported Solar Panels Until Reagan Removed Them in 1986

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Believe it or not, there was a time when the White House was partially-powered by solar panels! But that didn’t last, as they were taken down only a few years after they were installed (despite being in perfect working order).

During the energy crisis of the late 1970s, then-president Jimmy Carter called on Americans to conserve power and to prove that he wasn’t just all talk, he had an expansive row of solar panels installed on the roof of the West Wing in 1977.

White House Solar Panels
Above: Carter’s solar panels

In order to encourage other Americans to consider using clean energy sources, Carter also put in place tax benefits for those who did. “No one can ever embargo the sun or interrupt its delivery to us,” Carter proclaimed at the installation ceremony for his panels.

So, if the panels worked fine, where aren’t they still there?

President Carter with White House Solar Panels
Above: Carter shows off his new solar panels at the installation ceremony in 1977.

In 1986 when the price of energy was temporarily cheaper and Americans’ minds were less focused on environmental issues, President Reagan ordered the panels removed from the White House roof. Reagan, who didn’t think much of solar energy, also allowed the tax credit Carter had instated to lapse.

Above: A larger photograph shows the size of the panels and their proximity to the rest of the White House.

Then came “a clear, calculated campaign by the [Department of Energy] in the years of the Reagan administration to crush the solar energy program of the federal government” according to Denis Hayes, an expert on solar energy who worked for the government at the time. According to another expert involved in Carter’s original solar panel installation, Reagan’s Administration “felt that the equipment was just a joke… and he had it taken down.”

The panels, which had served to heat water at the White House, were eventually used by Unity College for the same purpose where they continued to work perfectly for more than a decade.

In 2002, the National Park Service quietly installed a small number of solar panels on a maintenance building they manage on White House grounds, marking a semi-return to the use of solar power. The Bush Administration did not publicize the installations, which reportedly now heat the White House pool.

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15 comments on “The White House Sported Solar Panels Until Reagan Removed Them in 1986”

  1. Will says:

    Why did Unity College remove the solar panels if they were working perfectly? Did they replace them?

  2. Tom in Portsmouth, NH says:

    These solar panels were a great idea, NOT a joke. Reagan was the joke in this story (and for much of his presidency, IMHO)!

  3. Nancy Otto says:

    Check out an article written by Sean Shepard at to get an answer on why the solar panels were removed. As for removing them quietly, there was an article written at the time, August 23, 1986, about why they were being removed and why they weren’t being replaced.

  4. jason says:

    Sorry but the roof repair excuse just doesnt hold up. Excuses and smokescreens have existed forever. So I really do not see how the date this was published has any importance. Back to my point though, construction guys are pretty skilled and savy. It wouldn’t have taken more than a day to place the panels back after roof repairs were done. So you can’t tell me cost prevented it. Sorry but your holy grail-like answer exonerating Reagan is more of a dixie cup. Try again…

  5. The Ger says:

    What is tragic that in 2011, it still costs between $5,000 to $7,000 to install solar panels just to heat hot water.

  6. Stephanie says:

    Sorry, Nancy, but I have to agree that the excuse that it was too expensive to put them back up on the roof after repairs were done is a load of manure. The cost of solar power is in buying the panels and the batteries and backup generators, converters, etc. The cost to install is minimal. The cost for upkeep is minimal, compared to the investment.

    So let’s say a roof need to be repaired. The panels are removed, and now they’re just sitting around, waiting to be put to good use. What’s more wasteful in spending? Putting them back on the roof (which requires mounting and connection to electrical lines) or trashing 10’s of thousands of dollars in solar equipment because you think (mistakenly) that’s it’s foolish technology? Personally, I’d rather my tax dollars have been spent on putting the damn things back on the roof. They were already paid for!

  7. Sorry, Stephanie, but you are wrong. You’re basing everything on 2011 statistics. First of all, the solar panels on the White House were THERMAL panels, quite a lot different than PVs. I suggest you do some research on THERMAL panels. These were not easy or cheap to install in the 1980’s, not easy or cheap to remove and not easy or cheap to reinstall. And though they might have worked they certainly didn’t work as efficient as today’s PV’s nor did they work as efficient as traditional methods. The story didn’t report that thermal panels required almost constant maintenance, unlike today’s PV’s. That’s why we don’t have Thermal panels today. They were inefficient and too expensive. Even today sustainability is driven by a Blue Economy, that is, use those methods that pay for themselves or reduce overhead.

  8. Swami G. says:

    … My My, most of Germany is subsidized for solar, and for the most part is 3x as cloudy as D.C. Hopefully we are preaching to the choir,but WT*?

  9. J, Pollack says:

    Speaking of Germany,the us spends our taxes keeping american soldiers there, maintaining military presence rather than working on social and climate change issues… the irony, oh the irony!

  10. Gordon Youd says:

    I don’t think Ronald Reagon was into science, after all he was previously an actor and was probably not aware of solar panels, etc.

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