Published March 22, 2012
BOULDER CITY, Nev. – President Obama visited a dusty, desert town 30 miles outside Las Vegas Wednesday to declare he's doubling down on federal efforts to boost the solar industry.
Republicans believe Obama is gambling with taxpayer dollars as he continues to aggressively push alternative forms of energy after the failure of Solyndra, which resulted in the loss of half a billion dollars in taxpayer dollars.
"This is one of those interesting left-wing ideas which works theoretically as long as it's not real," Republican presidential candidate Newt Gingrich charged on the campaign trail Wednesday. "And then you put in a half billion dollars and you go, 'Oh that didn't quite work.'"
Obama sharply disagrees and used the world's largest solar power plant of its kind -- with one million solar panels dotting the desert here -- to assert it is his critics who are out of touch with reality.
In a nod to Solyndra, Obama said "some companies will fail, some companies will succeed." But he also lashed out at Republicans who make jokes about the promise of solar and wind power as people who have a "lack of imagination" as the nation debates how to deal with rising gasoline prices.
"One member of Congress who shall remain unnamed called these jobs 'phony' -- called them phony jobs," Obama said. "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."
The problem for the President is that job growth is flat here too. There are only 10 full-time employees here at the Copper Mountain Solar 1 Facility, the largest photovoltaic solar power plant in the nation, although company officials note there will be more jobs if two other proposed plants move forward.
There are also questions about the electricity output here. This plant cranks out just 58 megawatts per hour to power 17,000 homes, while a typical coal-fired power plant can produce 600 megawatts an hour and about seven times the electricity.
Obama responds that solar is just one piece of his "all-of-the-above" strategy, and declared he will not back down from pouring in more taxpayer money since the payoffs from new technologies do not always come right away.
"Sometimes, you need a jumpstart to make it happen," Obama said. "That's been true of every innovation that we've ever had. And we know that some discoveries won't pan out. There's the VCR and the Beta and the -- all that stuff."
Rep. Jim Jordan, R-Ohio, a member of the panel that has been investigating the Solyndra matter, begs to differ and told Fox News the administration is too focused on getting taxpayer assistance to green companies that may not deserve the help.
"They are a green-energy focused agenda and they can't get to the heart of the matter, which is that we need to increase supply," said Jordan.
Jordan also raised eyebrows at the White House by suggesting in an interview with Energy and Environmental Daily that the Congressional probe of Solyndra is at least in part a push for votes in November.
"Ultimately, we'll stop it on Election Day, hopefully," Jordan said of the Solyndra probe. "And bringing attention to these things helps the voters and citizens of the country make the kind of decision that I hope helps them as they evaluate who they are going to vote for in November."
A White House official told Fox the administration believes it's noteworthy that a member of the committee probing Solyndra "now acknowledges that election-year politics is driving a taxpayer-funded investigation."