President Obama Goes Solar…At Marine One Hangar

The president’s house doesn’t have solar panels – still – but his helicopter’s house does. That’s progress, right?

Suniva, the Georgia-based manufacturer of crystalline silicon solar cells and modules, said 500 of its panels were installed on the Marine Helicopter Squadron One (HMX-1) hangar in Quantico, Va., where the Marine One fleet lives when it’s not shuttling the president around. The solar power system, installed by North Carolina-based FLS Energy last fall, totals 120-kilowatts and is expected to produce 150,000 kilowatt-hours annually, an amount the base’s Public Works division said could save it more than $10,000 on every year.

Marine One, presidential helicopter, solar hanger

image via FLS Energy

How much did the system cost? The Marines didn’t say. However, they did point out that they used “bid savings” from a 2009 fiscal year construction program to finance this project, along with other energy-efficiency projects. “The Type II hangar for HMX-1 was the first project to take advantage of these bid savings,” said Cmdr. Erik Breitenbach, Marine Corps Base Quantico’s public works officer. “Early in the project we made structural changes to the facility to accommodate the increased weight that would be added due to the solar panels.”

Marine One, solar hangar

image via Shutterstock

The solar array will give the hangar two credits toward the requirement that all “DON MILCON projects” – that’s military talk for “Department of Navy military construction” – meet LEED standards. The Suniva news release said “the building’s energy efficient lighting and HVAC system, low-flow fixtures and other energy efficient technologies are expected to provide the rest of the credits required to achieve LEED Silver Certification.”

As for those solar panels on the White House … the wait continues. As you might recall, way back in October 2010 the administration, under pressure from solar boosters, promised “a U.S. Department of Energy (DOE) demonstration project showing that American solar technologies are available, reliable, and ready for installation in homes throughout the country.” DOE Secretary Steven Chu then a system would be up by the end of spring 2011.

But no, they weren’t.

Faced with media inquiries, in late June 2011, the DOE put out a statement saying “the Energy Department remains on the path to complete the White House solar demonstration project, in keeping with our commitment, and we look forward to sharing more information – including additional details on the timing of this project – after the competitive procurement process is completed.”

CNN, following up on this, reported last October that it was told by the DOE that it was”still working through the procurement process” for getting the job done.

Pete Danko is a writer and editor based in Portland, Oregon. His work has appeared in Breaking Energy, National Geographic's Energy Blog, The New York Times, San Francisco Chronicle and elsewhere.