WASHINGTON — Jimmy Carter first put them up in 1979. Ronald Reagan called them a joke and had them removed in 1986.
And this week, nearly three years after promising to restore them as a sign of the administration’s commitment to renewable energy, President Obama is putting solar panels back on the White House roof.
The project is ‘‘a part of an energy retrofit that will improve the overall energy efficiency of the building,’’ according to a White House official, who asked not to be identified because the installation is in process. The official did not identify the supplier or cost of the project Thursday, but wrote that the White House has begun installing American-made solar panels, and that the initiative is estimated to pay for itself in energy savings over the next eight years.
Solar panels have a long history at the White House. Carter had 32 installed in the late 1970s to provide hot water, but Reagan ordered them removed in one of his first acts as president. In 2003, President George W. Bush installed a photovoltaic system on a maintenance building and two solar thermal units. The system heated the White House swimming pool.
Obama has set a new goal of having 20 percent of the federal government’s energy use come from renewable power by 2020.