President Barack Obama squinted up at one of the thousands of solar panels at a Nellis Air Force Base installation he toured Wednesday morning, listening as Sen. Harry Reid and base commander Col. Howard Belote told him about the photovoltaic array that supplies a quarter of the base’s electricity.
Reid brought sunglasses, and Belote was wearing a camouflage-print hat to match his uniform, leaving only the president unprotected from the bright sunlight that he touted as a great resource for Nevada’s and America’s energy future.
Speaking in Las Vegas on the 100-day anniversary of the $787 billion stimulus package, the president said projects like this one will not only help the economy pick up in the short term, but lay a foundation for long-term stability.
“In these last few months, the American Recovery and Reinvestment Act has saved or created nearly 150,000 jobs,” Obama said, including “jobs building solar panels and wind turbines, making homes and buildings more energy efficient.”
Obama addressed about 400 Nellis civilian and military personnel and their families at a hangar on the base, speaking at a podium with a base of ferns in front of a prop solar panel.
At Nellis, he noted, the 72,000 solar panels, partly built on landfill, power the equivalent of 13,200 homes during the day and make up the largest solar electric plant of its kind in the Western Hemisphere.
“It’s a project that took about half a year to complete, created 200 jobs and will save the United States Air Force … nearly $1 million a year,” Obama said. “It will also reduce harmful carbon pollution by 24,000 tons per year, which is the equivalent of removing 4,000 cars from our roads.”
He said jobs the stimulus has created or saved across the country range from construction jobs on stimulus-funded infrastructure projects to teachers and police officers who didn’t have to be laid off thanks to aid to state and local governments.
White House officials released a report on the stimulus Wednesday detailing the progress it has underwritten. But the Congressional Budget Office noted that only $19 billion in stimulus dollars has been spent so far, and unemployment continues to rise.
Obama said the stimulus work so far was “just the beginning” and that in addition to creating jobs, reforms are needed to prevent another economic collapse.
“We can’t return to the same bubble-and-bust, borrow-and-spend economy based on maxed-out credit cards and overleveraged banks and financial profits that were only real on paper,” he said.
Obama pointed to last week’s introduction of a new vehicle fuel-economy standard as one step toward ending America’s dependence on foreign oil, healing the environment, making the economy more competitive and improving national security.
He announced new funding from the stimulus for solar and geothermal development projects, saying, “In this case, what happens in Vegas should not stay in Vegas.”
Reid, the Senate majority leader who has become an aggressive proponent of renewables, said Nevada has the resources — sun, wind and geothermal — to be “the Saudi Arabia, potentially, of renewable energy.”
“Think of the energy we lose every day,” Reid said. “Thirty years ago in Boulder City, Nevada, one of the bars said, ‘Free beer if the sun doesn’t shine.’ We need to capture that sun and put it to productive use like we have here.”
Obama’s first visit to Nevada as president lasted about 20 hours starting Tuesday evening, when he hosted a gala fundraiser for Reid at Caesars Palace.
Republicans on Wednesday were circulating a Web video accusing Reid of partying while Nevadans struggle with unemployment.
The fundraiser was expected to raise nearly $2 million for Reid and the Nevada State Democratic Party.
Leaving Nellis shortly after noon Wednesday, Obama headed to Los Angeles to host an even more star-studded Hollywood event to raise money for the Democratic National Committee.
Contact reporter Molly Ball at firstname.lastname@example.org or 702-387-2919.President Obama at Nellis AFB – slideshow