Unity, Maine – June 24, 2014 – One of the premier environmental colleges in the United States remembers its humble origins in 1965. It also credits individuals who played significant roles in its history — including six time Academy Award nominee Glenn Close — for helping it through difficult challenges.
Officials at Unity were elated to learn that, on July 13, at an event slated for the Waterville Opera House, Close will receive the Mid-Life Achievement Award from the Maine International Film Festival. Members of the College community were reminded of the special place in the storied history of Unity College that the actress holds. It is a place that few beyond the College community know.
In the early 1990’s, Close donated funds that allowed Unity College to refurbish the array of solar panels formerly atop the White House during the administration of Jimmy Carter. The panels were taken down during the administration of President Ronald Reagan and placed in government storage, where they remained until the early 1990’s.
With the help of former Maine Senator William Cohen, the panels were then released from government storage and transported to Unity College, where they were refurbished with funds from Close and several other benefactors. These panels supplemented the hot water system for the cafeteria.
The saga of the White House solar panels moving to Unity College continues to take on a life of its own, with President Barack Obama re-installing solar atop the White House in 2014.
For over a decade, the panels formerly atop the White House warmed water in the cafeteria at Unity College until they reached the end of their useful lifespan. In 2004, the College considered what to do with the panels. An Associated Press story about the panels brought Swiss filmmakers Christina Hemauer and Roman Keller to campus for the exploration of a possible documentary film topic.
Over the next four years, they made multiple trips to the United States to film the documentary entitled A Road Not Taken, about Carter’s vision for the panels, their fate, resurrection, and future.
The documentary featured Unity College alumni Sara Trunzo ’08 and Jason Reynolds ’05, who brought one of the White House panels on a road trip from Unity, Maine, to the Carter Center in Atlanta, Georgia. They were searching for the meaning of America’s turn from the opportunity to pursue renewable energy that President Carter had championed. A clip featuring Reynolds is available on the Unity College sustainability web site at http://sustainabilitymonitor.wordpress.com/tag/a-road-not-taken/.
A rough cut of The Road Not Taken was screened during at the 2009 Maine International Film Festival and both filmmakers attended the premier. The documentary showcasing the Unity solar panel story has since been screened at film festivals internationally.
The documentary was re-cut in 2010 to include a new interview with former President Jimmy Carter, who shared his candid feelings about why the panels were removed from the White House.
Also in 2010, Huang Ming, Chairman of Himin Solar, one of the largest solar manufacturing companies in the world, visited Unity College to accept the gift of a White House solar panel to the people of China. After accepting the gift in a ceremony held at the Unity College Center for the Performing Arts, Ming travelled to the Carter Center in Georgia, where he met with former President Jimmy Carter.
The panel that was gifted to Ming is on permanent display at Dezhou Solar City museum in China. Unity gifted panels from the White House array of 32 panels to the Smithsonian and Carter Center. One panel is on permanent display on campus, while the balance is in storage.
“The saga of the former White House solar panels is ongoing,” noted Dr. Michael Evans, Vice President for Academic Affairs. “They have inspired a generation of students to imagine the possibilities for achieving a more sustainable planet. We all applaud Ms. Close for her generosity to help the solar panels formerly atop the White House to find a new, useful existence after years of government storage.”
Although their peak energy producing life is over and primary value being historical, Evans noted that the College regularly fields requests for the panels to either be loaned or gifted. Unity College will be fundraising over the next year to purchase new solar panels set for installation at various locations on campus.
Through the framework of sustainability science, Unity College provides a liberal arts education that emphasizes the environment and natural resources. Through experiential and collaborative learning, our graduates emerge as responsible citizens, environmental stewards, and visionary leaders.
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