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White House solar panel installation fraught with irony

White House Solar Panels

With August generally being the slower part of the news cycle, one of the bigger stories last week was that the installation of solar panels on the roof of the White House had begun. Administration officials say in retrofitting the White House building to make it more energy efficient, the President is delivering on a promise he made in October 2010.

At the time when President Obama made said pledge, then-Energy Secretary Steven Chu said:

“This project reflects President Obama’s strong commitment to U.S. leadership in solar energy and the jobs it will create here at home. Deploying solar energy technologies across the country will help America lead the global economy for years to come.”

While following through on a promise is generally a good thing, one cannot help but notice a slight irony here, as the very renewable energy projects the Administration seeks to promote relies heavily on critical minerals, some of which find themselves in the crosshairs of Administration policy – in spite of the White House’s own Materials Genome Initiative which indicated that securing America’s access to critical minerals was going to be a priority.

Take copper, for example. An average industrial wind turbine contains more than three tons of it. And while details on the supplier or make of the White House solar panels were not released, there’s a good chance they chose the record-setting CIGS solar panels, which are said to have an energy conversion rate higher than 20 percent. It’s no secret what the letters in the acronym stand for: the “C” stands for Copper, the “I” stands for Indium, the “G” represents Germanium and the “S” stands for selenium, 95 percent of which is derived as a copper byproduct.

Meanwhile, one of the most promising and possibly biggest copper exploration projects in U.S. history is currently facing unprecedented and – as representatives from both sides of the political spectrum have concluded – inappropriate treatment by the EPA which appears willing to bend to environmentalists’ pressures calling for a pre-emptive veto of the project even before any permit applications have been filed.

If the Administration is serious about its commitment to a renewable energy future, it should, at a minimum, grant the courtesy of a full and orderly review under the National Environmental Policy Act (NEPA) – which, in the Administration’s own words represents “the cornerstone of our Nation’s modern environmental protections” – to a project which has the potential to help build this future.