US president Barack Obama has this week railed against US political and business figures who continue to cling to out-dated fossil fuels while instilling the great hope of renewable forms of energy.
Speaking during a tour of America, Obama also singled out the influential Koch brothers for criticism for the first time.
Accusing the opponents of his energy policies of “wanting to protect an outdated status quo” based on fossil fuels, Obama warned them away from “standing in the way of the future” and his efforts to tackle climate change.
The president delivered a spirited closing speech at the 8th National Clean Energy Summit, which took place this Monday in Las Vegas and was co-sponsored by Senator Harry Reid of Nevada.
Obama embarked on a vigorous defense of his administration’s policy to boost the fast-expanding renewable energy industry in the US – launched as part of a spending program originally aimed at pulling the country out of the recession which resulted from the 2008 financial crisis – and more recent moves to “reduce the dangerous emissions that contribute to climate change”.
Obama praised the solar panel industry, where he said prices for panels had fallen by 10% in the US since 2008. Installations had risen 30%, while “every three minutes another business in America goes solar”, and thousands of jobs were being created.
But it is not only solar that is growing across the US.
This week, proposals for Wind X, a 552 megawatt wind farm, were approved in Iowa as the state aims to comply with standards set out by Obama’s Clean Power Plan.
In southern California meanwhile, the Blythe Mesa Solar Power project, set to be one of the world’s largest solar power plants, will generate enough electricity to power almost 200 000 homes, and is lauded for protecting wildlife by using already disturbed or fallow farmland.
Another California utility set records during the recent heat wave by generating over 1000 megawatts from renewable energy.
Obama warned of plans of the Republican party to thwart renewable energy investment:
Now is not the time to pull back from these investments. Many Republicans want to take from these successful clean energy programs.
He highlighted that in some cases, renewable energy has become cheaper than fossil fuel energy, adding that it was “impossible to overstate what that means”. He said:
You do not have to share my passion for solving climate change to like renewable energy. People are doing it not because of tree huggers – even though trees are important – but because they are cost-cutters.
During the address, the president also announced that the administration plans an expansion of a loan program, allowing more homeowners to receive up-front financing for clean-energy or energy-efficient upgrades, and then pay it off over many years as part of their property taxes:
We’re going to make it even easier for individual homeowners to put solar panels on the roof with no upfront cost. So we’re taking steps that will allow more Americans to join this revolution, with no money down.
The president praised large companies such as Walmart, Google, Apple and Costco which are increasing investment in renewable energy to run their businesses, describing the development as a “big jolt of hope”.
Obama remarked the “big shift” taking place was making “fossil fuel interests pretty nervous, to the point where they are trying to fight renewable energy”. He said:
I’m getting resistance from some fossil fuel interests who want to protect the outdated status quo. When you start seeing massive lobbying efforts backed by fossil fuel interests or conservative thinktanks or the Koch brothers, pushing for new laws to roll back renewable energy standards or prevent new clean energy businesses from succeeding, that’s a problem.
That’s not the American way, that’s not progress, that’s not innovation.
The Koch brothers are Charles and David Koch, the business siblings in charge of Koch Industries, a Kansas-based multinational conglomerate with vast holdings in oil, chemicals and a host of other traditional industries.
Koch Industries actively fund Republican and conservative causes that oppose expanding the government’s role in healthcare and combating climate change, particularly through taxation and tighter regulation of power plant emissions.
Obama criticised the apparent inconsistencies in the ‘free market’ affinity expressed by fossil fuel lobbyists:
It’s one thing if you’re consistent in being free market. It’s another thing if you’re free market until it’s solar that’s working, and people want to buy it, and suddenly you’re not for it any more. That’s a problem.
As the summit audience applauded, he accused opponents who “go crazy” at any talk of the government providing healthcare for people without insurance of trying to “choke off consumer choice”.
The president predicted that, as the clean energy continues to expand and win new customers all over the US, his opponents would only get louder, but also insisted they were going in the wrong direction:
It’s about the past versus the future. And America believes in the future.
Obama’s appearance at the summit was the first leg of a climate- and energy-centred tour around the US which will culminate in a visit to Arctic Alaska next week. On Thursday, the president will visit New Orleans to mark the 10th anniversary of Hurricane Katrina and speak about how cities can become more resilient in the face of climate change.