Wednesday, October 8, 2008

Distorted Truth: Reagan Ditched Solar Panels at White House?

I have a strong interest in alternative energy and adamantly believe we need to, shuddering to utter this overused phrase, "end our dependence on foreign oil." I watch a lot of documentaries and last evening was watching "Escape from Suburbia" which talks about the energy crisis and the possible need for us to drastically change our lifestyles as energy gets more and more scarce and expensive. Fair enough.

What a great many people don't realize is that wind turbines, solar panels and even hydroelectric generators are still very, very expensive. In a recent issue of "Home Power" it indicated that because of the still relatively low efficiency and low cost per KwH of energy in Indiana, it could take up to eighty years to recoup the cost of installing a PV (Photovoltaic) system. The economics will get better as technology advances and economies of scale are introduced with increased demand and, theoretically, lower per unit cost of production.

I would also like to take a moment to remind everyone that turning our food into fuel is a really bad idea for lots of reasons, putting a big mast and sail on top of the car won't get you any farther than the first overpass and even there slowly and solar just isn't efficient enough to replace gasoline in our vehicles. The good news, things are getting better and there is lots of research being done. The auto manufacturers are figuring it out and more and more options will be available as time goes on.

The thing that prompted me to write this though, was that twenty-five minutes into this documentary which is high on fear factor and light on actual discussion about technology, they mention that President Jimmy Carter (D 1977 - 1980) installed solar panels on top of the White House. Indeed he did! President Carter had a rather large solar water-heating panel assembly placed on top of the White House. The documentary then has someone talking about President Ronald Reagan (R 1981 - 1988) and then goes into a giant-size animated Reagan cartoon stomping around and roaring like Godzilla and dismantling the panels.

As usual, I was wary of bias in what I was watching and sure enough the New York Times published an AP article on August 24, 1986 saying "The panels of the system had been dismantled to fix the roof underneath. Dale A. Petroskey, a White House spokesman, said Friday, 'Putting them back up would be very unwise, based on cost.'"

So there we have it. It didn't make economic sense at the time to put them back up and it is always a good idea to get past our preconceived notions or beliefs about individuals or groups and to do our own homework.

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