What Obama’s State of the Union Means for Solar Power

January 28th, 2010 by Fred Greenhalgh
Completed Solar Project in Dedham, New Hampshire
A solar power project completed this week in New Hampshire – clean energy is ready to go!

In his first official State of the Union address, President Obama offered a rousing challenge to Congress to get to work on a variety of issues – jobs, security, health care, and the transition to a clean energy economy.

With 2009 behind us, but its challenges far from over, Obama took an approach that was urgent, while at times light-hearted, as he analyzed the country’s problems and his suggestions for implementing change.

We were pleased to see “clean energy” make it into the speech some dozen times, though Obama mentioned “solar panels” only once.

Here’s our take on some of the key points raised during the State of the Union address:

  • Obama Lauds Success of Recovery Act

    “Because of the steps we took, there are about two million Americans working right now who would otherwise be unemployed. Two hundred thousand work in construction and clean energy”

    Obama put a lot of effort into defending the actions necessary in 2009, both the unpopular bank bailout and the ongoing American Recovery and Reinvestment Act (ARRA), aka the Stimulus.

    While Obama’s focus on clean energy jobs was on the manufacturing side – he mentioned both “the California business that will put a thousand people to work making solar panels” and a need to create “new factories that manufacture clean energy products,” the Stimulus also has had a big positive effect on those who install those panels thanks to financial incentives that were part of ARRA.

  • Obama Sees Clean Energy as the Route to Tomorrow

    “We can put Americans to work today building the infrastructure of tomorrow … There’s no reason Europe or China should have the fastest trains, or the new factories that manufacture clean energy products… I know that there are those who disagree with the overwhelming scientific evidence on climate change. But here’s the thing — even if you doubt the evidence, providing incentives for energy-efficiency and clean energy are the right thing to do for our future -– because the nation that leads the clean energy economy will be the nation that leads the global economy. And America must be that nation.”

    Obama seemed very cautious about making the environmental case for a switch to a clean energy economy, instead rooting his argument in the need to create very real clean energy jobs.

    While we couldn’t agree more, and laud Obama for finding common ground, it’s a bit disappointing that the very real crisis facing our planet is still a point of argument.

    The reality is that regardless of the state of the economy, we need to make a move to clean energy now as an act of survival.

    That Obama was cautious to acknowledge this threat points to an even greater challenge of worldview we still have to resolve.

  • Getting There – Incentives and Innovations

    “We should put more Americans to work building clean energy facilities and give rebates to Americans who make their homes more energy-efficient, which supports clean energy jobs. … Next, we need to encourage American innovation. Last year, we made the largest investment in basic research funding in history, an investment that could lead to the world’s cheapest solar cells or treatment that kills cancer cells but leaves healthy ones untouched.”

    Again, Obama mentions investment in research as a major player in the move to a clean economy. While we agree, the reality is that there are plenty of technologies that are already here which are reliable, affordable, and available.

    Both grid-tied photovoltaics and solar hot water are energy investments that make economic and environmental sense.

    We’re eager to see what Obama plans to offer with “rebates to Americans who make their homes more energy-efficient,” and wish we’d heard something about a feed-in tariff.

  • The Economy of Old – Nuclear, Oil, and Gas?

    “But to create more of these clean energy jobs, we need more production, more efficiency, more incentives. And that means building a new generation of safe, clean nuclear power plants in this country. It means making tough decisions about opening new offshore areas for oil and gas development. It means continued investment in advanced biofuels and clean coal technologies. And, yes, it means passing a comprehensive energy and climate bill with incentives that will finally make clean energy the profitable kind of energy in America.”

    After so much invigorating news from Obama, it was disappointing to hear his last word on energy mention nonrenewable sources of energy.

    While it may be necessary to find some common ground with Republicans to move the overall initiatives forward, we still disagree that more power plants and “clean” coal are the best way to build the nation’s infrastructure.

Disappointments aside, it’s encouraging to see how large a role clean energy fits into Obama’s plans to move the country back into recovery.

As Obama acknowledged, we have some mighty challenges ahead of us, but the technology is here to move to a clean economy.

What is difficult is mustering the will to act.


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2 Responses to “What Obama’s State of the Union Means for Solar Power”

  1. Abriel Says:

    I was very disappointed that “clean coal” got more mention then solar or wind. Nuclear is not the way to go, the current situation in Vermont is telling of one of the many problems nuclear poses. Nuclear is also too centralized, putting all of our eggs in one basket. People need to stop asking for “clean energy” because that has lost its meaning with all this greenwashing. The idea that money needs to go into R&D is an excuse to postpone actually building anything. A feed-in tariff would definitely be a fantastic step.

  2. Fred Says:

    Totally agreed, Abriel, too much effort towards big, centralized plants and not de-centralized, clean and efficient solar energy! We definitely are advocates for a feed-in tariff – let’s hope that effort gets traction again soon