"After hundreds of thousands of pages of documents sent over, there's not any whiff that (giving loans to solar-panel maker Solyndra) was a politically influenced decision. That's true of all the loans."
-- Energy Secretary Steven Chu talking to reporters after his latest round of congressional testimony.
Given the steady stream of disappointments and even some scandals that have emanated from the green-energy stimulus programs of the Obama administration, one might expect to see the president shy away from the subject.
But today, despite the ongoing problems with firms like Solyndra, the politically connected California solar-panel maker that tanked shortly after receiving more than $500 million in federal loans, and a string of bad news from taxpayer-backed green energy programs, the president is doubling down on solar energy.
Obama will today visit the Copper Mountain Solar Facility, the nation's most productive solar array, a 380-acre operation south of Las Vegas. The massive facility produces less than 10 percent of the power of one medium-sized coal plant but has plans for government-subsidized expansion to eventually produce nearly one-third as much power as a typical coal plant.
Obama today is out on yet another swing-state campaign blitz on energy, a tactic he has aggressively pursued since rising gas prices began corroding his job-approval ratings a month ago. Obama will hit western battlegrounds in Nevada and New Mexico today and campaign Thursday in his top target, Ohio.
In between, Obama will stop in Cushing, Okla., the pipeline capital of the world, to push back on Republican pressure over his decision to block a pipeline from western Canada's oilfields. It looks increasingly likely that Obama will eventually authorize the pipeline when it is resubmitted for approval. Environmentalists dislike the idea because they worry that by helping to keep oil relatively inexpensive it will delay the nation's transition to less efficient but cleaner power sources, but it has become too much of a flashpoint in the political war over Obama's energy policy.
Finding a way to climb down on the Keystone pipeline while defending his new limitations on domestic oil and coal production is the most imperative part of the president's current campaign effort. If voters make a causal link between Obama's environmental policies and the rising cost of energy, his re-election bid would be almost certainly doomed.
But it isn't enough for Obama just to cite favorable sounding statistics about the production of low-cost energy sources in the nation. He needs to show that curtailing the use of these low-cost sources in favor of more expensive choices. This is where solar comes in.
Solar power, about 0.1 percent of the nation's energy supply, has been the dream energy source for many environmentalists for decades: totally clean power from the largest energy source within 100 million miles. But even with massive subsidies over the years, it's never been able to compete with cheap sources of energy like coal, oil and natural gas.
Obama's energy policy has favored solar power, battery makers and electric cars. The idea is that subsidies for these things can tackle the nation's most prevalent source of air pollution: America's roads. But solar and electric cars have been a seemingly unending source of embarrassment for the administration.
Solyndra has been a debacle and subsidized electric vehicles like GM's Volt have been big busts for the administration. And at a time when Obama is facing questions about the fact that the national debt has increased more in three years of his governance than in the eight years of his predecessor, expensive subsidies for environmental projects are a dubious proposition.
He may have little choice but to strike a Gingrichian pose on transformative, future solutions. Explaining why curtailing access to cheap energy is a good idea requires the promise of something better ahead.
Unfortunately for the president, solar power is still stained by what happened at Solyndra, where Obama donors got favorable treatment for a risky loan even when some in the president's orbit were warning against it. The taxpayers took a bath and the impartiality and the effectiveness of Obama's brand of publicly subsidized venture capitalism was thrown into disrepute.
But Obama is dedicated to a voter education program in which he intends to change public thinking about his policies and about the merits of subsidizing inefficient but clean energy.
Power Play would suggest the president stay as far away from solar panels between now and the election as possible just as George W. Bush and Dick Cheney were wise to avoid campaigning at Haliburton headquarters in 2004. But Obama, always an audacious campaigner, is going to brazen it out.
And Now, A Word From Charles
"Now, every once in a generation, there's an exception to that rule, and that's a Reagan. But we are not going to live to see another Reagan in our lifetime. And the general rule is if you're more to the center, you have an easier chance to do the pivot that you need to do and to win.
"So I think all the indicators now are pointing to Romney. And I think for a lot of the other three candidates, it's mostly a question of facing reality sooner or later."