By Laura Myers, Special to Boulder City Review
President Barack Obama on Wednesday pledged to keep investing government tax dollars in clean energy development, using a visit to a solar power plant outside Boulder City to promote his energy plan.
He also called on Congress to end $4 billion in U.S. subsidies to the oil industry, saying a century of such help is enough and more government money should go toward solar, wind and geothermal energy investment.
“As long as I’m president, we will not walk away from the promise of clean energy,” Obama said.
The president was addressing more than 100 invited guests at Sempra Energy’s Copper Mountain Solar 1 Plant in Boulder City.
The guests included many city officials including Mayor Roger Tobler, Councilmen Cam Walker, Duncan McCoy and Rod Woodbury, and City Manager Vicki Mayes.
Tobler said Eldorado Valley is the perfect place for renewable energy, not just because it has plenty of sunshine, but also because the city owns the land with good access to transmission lines.
“We did have the infrastructure and we’re using the land for what I believe to be its best use,” said Tobler, adding most citizens didn’t want high-user development such as commercial and residential. “We’re following the plan (for which) we purchased the Eldorado Valley (in 1995). This area was set aside for that so we’re following the vision that was set there by prior elected officials.”
Councilman Walker said the community made a huge investment in the energy zone, but the city can’t be successful without the government’s help.
“It’s going to take cooperation from the federal government, particularly (Bureau of Land Management) and also the Energy Department in making sure there’s access and opportunity to purchase the power that is generated,” Walker said.
The Bureau of Land Management owns some of the rightofways the transmission lines running from Boulder City cross.
The city acquired the Eldorado Valley, where the solar plants sit, through a transfer agreement in 1995 that set aside the land for development only as a “desert tortoise preserve, public recreation land and as a possible site for a solar power peaking station.”
Obama’s visit to Boulder City, the first by a sitting president since Franklin D. Roosevelt in 1935, was his first stop on a two-day, four-state visit to promote both renewable energy and oil and gas development.
Obama derided some Republican opponents in Congress, although not by name, for not backing U.S. investment in renewable energy. He called them members of the “flat Earth society.” He said it’s a waste of tax money to continue a century’s worth of U.S. subsidies to the oil industry.
“That doesn’t make any sense,” Obama said. “I don’t think it’s a wise use of your tax dollars.”
He said the solar plant he was visiting can now power 17,000 homes and another plant is under construction that would power another 45,000 homes. Under development is a third solar plant that can provide energy to yet another 66,000 homes.
Obama said that his administration has approved some 16 solar projects that could one day power up to 2 million homes. He acknowledged that not every project will succeed, although he did not mention the Solyndra project that got tens of millions of dollars in federal help under Obama and recently went belly up. Republicans have heavily criticized that failure.
Boulder City is the perfect site for solar projects, enjoying 320 days of sunshine a year, he said, and with access to power transmission lines.
“This is an extraordinary opportunity for the community,” Obama said, noting hundreds of construction workers got jobs and are helping the still suffering Nevada economy and jobless situation. “This is not just happening here in Boulder City.”
Obama criticized congressional opponents who call renewable energy employment “phony jobs” because they only last as long as the project is being built, while relatively few workers are needed to maintain clean energy plants.
“These politicians need to come to Boulder City and see what I’m seeing,” he said. “They should talk to the people who are involved in this industry, who have benefitted from these jobs. … When it comes to new technology the pay off isn’t going to come right away.”
The president argued the government needs to help “jump start” the projects to get them going.
“We’re not going to walk away from places like Boulder City,” he said. “I’m not going to give up on the new to cede our position to China or Germany or all the other competitors out there who are making massive investments in clean energy technology. I refuse to see us stand by and not make the same commitment.”
Obama mentioned Hoover Dam and the city’s place in the history of energy projects.
“You know the promise that lies ahead because this city has always been about the future,” he said. “Eight decades ago, in the midst of the Great Depression, the people of Boulder City were busy working on another energy project you may have heard of. Like today, it was a little bit ahead of its time. It was a little bit bigger than this solar plant, it was a little louder, too. It was called the Hoover Dam. And at the time, it was the largest dam in the world. Even today, it stands as a testimony to American ingenuity, American imagination, the power of the American spirit a testimony to the notion we can do anything.”
Obama arrived at McCarran International Airport at 11:25 a.m., drove to Boulder City for a tour and speech and left about 2 p.m. He also planned to visit New Mexico, Oklahoma and Ohio to talk about oil and gas exploration as well as renewable energy.
Boulder City editor Arnold M. Knightly and Review-Journal reporter Kristi Jourdan contributed to this report.