President Obama vowed Wednesday to continue making large-scale investments in solar power, pushing back against Republicans who have used the collapse of Solyndra to raise questions about the administration’s clean-energy agenda.
“You’d think that everybody would be supportive of solar power,” Obama said during a speech at a solar plant in Boulder City, Nev. “That’s what you’d think. And yet, if some politicians had their way, there won’t be any more public investment in renewable energy.”
Obama’s speech, part of a four-state energy tour, signals that the White House continues to believe that investing in clean energy is a winning political issue, despite the GOP’s attacks on Solyndra, the now-defunct California solar panel maker that received a $535 million Obama administration loan guarantee in 2009.
“As long as I’m president, we will not walk away from the promise of clean energy,” Obama said.
The president spoke Wednesday afternoon at the Copper Mountain Solar 1 Facility, which the White House said was the largest photovoltaic solar power plant in the country.
While Obama didn’t mention Solyndra in the speech, he acknowledged that some investments “won’t pan out.” But he stressed that long-term investment in the renewable energy industry will boost the economy and create thousands of jobs.
“When it comes to new technologies, the pay-offs aren’t always going to start right away,” Obama said. “Sometimes you need a jumpstart to make it happen.”
The president sought to portray Republicans as out of touch and clinging to old notions.
“If these guys were around when Columbus set sail, they’d be charter members of the Flat Earth Society,” Obama said, reprising a line from an earlier speech.
“One member of Congress who shall remain unnamed called these jobs ‘phony,’ ” he said.
Obama praised Tuesday’s decision by the Commerce Department to impose modest tariffs on imports of Chinese solar panels into the United States.
“China wasn’t playing fair when it comes to solar power,” he said. “When the playing field is level, then American workers and American businesses always win. That’s why we’ve got to make sure that our laws are properly enforced.”
Republicans have been working for months to punish Obama politically for the administration’s clean-energy investments, focusing in on the Solyndra failure.
The GOP alleges that officials missed red flags that hinted at the Solyndra’s financial problems and that the administration approved the loan to please Obama’s campaign donors.
The White House strongly denies the allegations.
A year-long House Energy and Commerce Committee investigation has uncovered no evidence that the Solyndra loan was granted for political reasons. But it has uncovered documents that are embarrassing and politically damaging for the White House, including that officials raised questions about the wisdom of granting the loan guarantee.
In his speech Wednesday, Obama also underscored his administration’s commitment to expand domestic oil-and-gas production, an issue that the White House has put renewed focus on amid soaring gasoline prices.
“I just want everybody to be clear, because sometimes when you listen to the news and listen to some of these politicians, they seem a little bit confused about what I’m saying,” Obama said. “We’re going to continue to produce record amounts of oil and gas.”
But Obama said more drilling isn’t the only answer, touting his “all-of-the-above” energy plan.
“An energy strategy that focuses only on drilling and not on an energy strategy that will free ourselves from our dependence on oil, that’s a losing strategy,” he said. “That’s not a strategy I’m going to pursue.”
Obama will continue his energy tour later Wednesday with a stop at oil-and-gas production fields in New Mexico, where he'll tout his efforts to expand domestic production. On Thursday, the president will deliver energy speeches in Oklahoma and Ohio.