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In 1991, Unity College, an environmentally-minded centre of learning in Maine acquired the White House solar panels. In «A Road not Taken», Swiss artists Christina Hemauer and Roman Keller document the route the solar panels took, interviewing those involved in the decisions regarding these panels as well as those involved in the oil crisis of the time.
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The White House Solar Panels move to Unity College. 

Government and private industry leaders as well as Unity College reaffirm the importance of solar power energy as a viable alternative.

With the ever-increasing reliance on computers, phones, tablets, and other devices, comes the need to implement solutions to help offset the enormous demand we’re putting on our power grid.

Apple, Inc., the second largest technology company in the world, recently outfitted its data center in North Carolina with a giant solar power and fuel cell farm. Today, all operations from that facility are done with 100% renewable energy. Although their plan was ambitious one, their timing was perfect and sets a powerful example.

Along with Apple’s move, the recent installation of solar panels on the White House and Obama’s action plan on climate clearly indicate that the administration is again joining in on the movement toward using renewable energy. Again.

Jimmy Carter’s push to put solar panels on the White House in 1979 was as forward thinking as it was symbolic of his resistance to rely on foreign oil in the face of the energy crisis in the early 1970s. Unfortunately, Carter’s bold move was undone when, at the onset of the subsequent administration, the solar panels were quickly removed. 

In their 2010 documentary “A Road Not Taken”, Swiss filmmakers Christina Hemauer and Roman Keller (seated in the photograph) relay the saga of the Jimmy Carter solar panels and recount how, after his administration, the development of renewable energy was abruptly halted. The film also features the role that Unity played in essentially rescuing the Carter solar panels from obscurity. 

After the 32 panels were removed from the White House, in 1991 Unity College officials went to Washington D.C. to recover them from gathering dust in a cavernous warehouse, and brought the panels to campus, many of them used to heat water for the cafeteria. After their full potential had been reached, the panels were given another life by Professor Mick Womersley and his students: a number of them were cleaned and conserved, and others were used in energy labs where students tested the panels for thermal efficiency

In 2007, two of the panels gifted by the College went on a road trip to the Jimmy Carter Presidential Museum and Library in Atlanta, Georgia and the National History Museum in Washington, DC. The Hemauer/Keller film highlights alumni Jason Reynolds ’06 and Sara Trunzo ’08 as they drive a truck from campus to deliver the panels.

Three years after Reynolds and Trunzo made that trip, Unity College again headed back to Washington, D.C., with the goal to once more to get solar energy back in the spotlight. In 2010, students, other College representatives, and the founder of 350.org, Bill McKibben, drove to the White House to deliver a petition of over 40,000 signatures to the Council on Environmental Quality with a request to put solar back on the White House. 

The College has a long history of being committed to the learning, application and practice of using renewable energy. Evidence of this can be seen all around: through our buildings including Unity House, and TerraHaus; through our series of invited speakers including Sharon Reishus who recently spoke on trends that will reshape the energy industry in the future; and through alumni like John Luft of ReVision Energy, a company dedicated to creating a sustainable energy economy through solar power installations. Perhaps the best example of a commitment to renewable energy can be seen through the College’s Sustainable Energy Management program. Students at Unity learn solid general theory while simultaneously gaining practical skills, and upon graduation are primed to enter the green job economy with careers in energy efficiency, renewable energy, and protection and restoration of the environment. 

The recent news of solar power implementation by Apple and the White House has given cause for the College to reflect on its moment in solar panel history. Along with Apple’s move, the recent installation of solar panels on the White House and Obama’s action plan on climate, Unity College continues to be a national beacon in the call to action for the renewable energy movement with campus-wide climate changing policy, programs and structural energy efficiency. By preparing future climate change leaders, Unity College joins the ranks of Apple and the White House in moving forward towards a clean energy future.  

Tuesday, June 10, 2014