March 21st, 2012
08:41 PM ET
BOULDER CITY, Nevada (CNN) - President Barack Obama kicked off a two-day energy tour on Wednesday with a stop here at the largest photovoltaic - producing voltage from energy sources such as light - solar facility in the United States, Copper Mountain Solar 1.
Speaking just 30 miles south of the Las Vegas strip, Obama reaffirmed his administration's commitment to an "all of the above" approach to domestic energy production, and called the solar sector an "industry on the rise."
But the president also derided opponents who have dismissed green energy as a viable job creator and aimed sharp words at those who instead call on his administration to take a more aggressive approach towards domestic oil production.
"One member of Congress who shall remain unnamed called these jobs 'phony,' called them phony jobs," Obama said of positions created at facilities like Copper 1. "I mean, think about that mindset, that attitude that says because something is new, it must not be real. If these guys were around when Columbus set sail, they'd be charter members of the Flat Earth Society."
With nearly a million solar panels spread across 450 acres, Copper Mountain 1 provides power for roughly 17,000 homes, but employs just 10 full-time employees.
The solar plant's owner, Sempra U.S. Gas & Power, is in the process of building a second facility nearby that's set to more than triple the output of Copper Mountain 1. Construction of the second facility - Copper Mountain 2 - has created 175 temporary jobs but, according to Sempra's projections will result in just five full-time positions.
Regardless of the size, such job creation is good for the economy, Obama said. And alluding to a plan to cut funding for green energy that was included in the newly released Republican budget proposal, Obama said that supporters of such a move would effectively be killing jobs.
"Given the fact that this is creating jobs, generating power, helping to keep our environment clean, making us more competitive globally, you'd think that everybody would be supportive of solar power," Obama said. "That's what you'd think. And yet, if some politicians had their way, there won't be any more public investment in solar energy. There won't be as many new jobs and new businesses."
Critics of the president argue that his administration's decision to back green technologies is the equivalent of picking economic winners and losers. The biggest example such critics point to is the Obama administration's decision to issue federal loan guarantees to the bankrupt solar panel manufacturer Solyndra, leaving taxpayers on the hook for millions of dollars.
On Wednesday, the president compared failed technologies like those championed by Solyndra to the VCR and Beta tapes, acknowledging that not every new development in is going to succeed.
"Not every auto company succeeded in the early days of the auto industry," Obama said. "Not every airplane manufacturer succeeded in the early days of the aviation. But we understood as Americans that if we keep on this track, and we're at the cutting edge, then that ultimately will make our economy stronger and it will make the United States stronger."
The president also lauded steps taken by his administration "towards leveling the playing field," such as a recent decision to place tariffs on solar panels imported from China, and he repeated his call to end so-called "subsidies" to oil and gas companies, a sector the president said is "doing fine."
"We want to encourage production of oil and gas, and make sure that wherever we've got American resources, we are tapping into them," Obama said. "But they don't need an additional incentive when gas is $3.75 a gallon
"A century of subsidies to oil companies is long enough. It's time to end the taxpayer giveaways to an industry that's rarely been more profitable, and double-down on investments in an energy industry that has never been more promising."