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Solar panels to be installed at White House

WASHINGTON - Solar power is coming to President Barack Obama's house.

The most famous residence in America plans to install solar panels atop the White House's living quarters. The solar panels are to be installed by spring 2011 and will heat water for the first family and supply some electricity.

Energy Secretary Steven Chu announced the plans yesterday in Washington at a conference of local, state, academic and nonprofit leaders aimed at identifying how the government can improve its environmental performance.

Former Presidents Jimmy Carter and George W. Bush both tapped the sun during their days in the White House. Carter in the late 1970s spent $30,000 on a solar water-heating system for West Wing offices. Bush's solar systems powered a maintenance building and some of the mansion, and heated water for the pool.

Obama, who has championed renewable energy, has been under increasing pressure by the solar industry and environmental activists to lead by example by installing solar at 1600 Pennsylvania Ave., which White House officials said has been under consideration since he first took office.

The decision perhaps has more import now after legislation to reduce global warming pollution died in the Senate, despite the White House's support. Obama has vowed to try again on a smaller scale.

What was unclear yesterday was how much the White House solar project will cost, and how much fossil fuel-based electricity it would displace, since the system is not yet designed and the White House will not disclose how much energy is needed to keep the president's lights turned on.

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