President Obama Remarks At The National Clean Energy Summit

President Barack Obama addresses the National Clean Energy Summit at the Mandalay Bay Resort Convention Center in Las Vegas, Nevada. The White House expanded its push for greater renewable energy adoption, announcing fresh financial incentives for solar panels, smart grid technology and other alternative energies for homeowners and builders.

Transcript below:

THE PRESIDENT:  Thank you very much.  (Applause.)  Thank you, everybody.  Please, please, have a seat.  We’re all about saving energy here.  (Laughter.)  Sit down.

Hello, Las Vegas!  (Applause.)  It’s good to be back on the road after spending a little downtime with my family — recharging my own batteries, so to speak.  And it is great to join you at this clean energy summit to see the work that you’re all doing on what I consider to be one of the most important issues not just of our time, but of any time.

I want to thank Mandalay Bay and MGM’s chairman, Jim Murren, for hosting us today.  I want to thank my dear friend, your outstanding Senator, Harry Reid, for holding this summit -(applause) — and for keeping us focused on this challenge.  I want to thank him, by the way, for his strong statement over the weekend in support of a deal that is going to make sure that Iran does not get a nuclear weapon, which is a top priority of my administration.  (Applause.)  And Harry’s leadership matters.  It sends a message that Congress should support this historic diplomatic breakthrough, and not block it over the objections of most of the world.  It reflects the best of American foreign policy.  We don’t rely on bluster or bravado; we focus on strong, principled diplomacy that prevents Iran from obtaining a nuclear weapon — and showing once again to the entire world what American leadership really means.

Now, we’re here today because we believe that no challenge poses a greater threat to our future than climate change.  It’s something that I’d spoken at length about a few weeks ago; it’s something that I’ll speak about at length next week when I travel throughout Alaska.

But we’re also here because we hold another belief, and that is we are deeply optimistic about American ingenuity.  We think we can do good and do well at the same time.  We believe we have the power, the dynamism, the creativity to solve a big problem while keeping the engines of the American economy moving.

Six and a half years ago, I took office after decades in which our addiction to fossil fuels and foreign oil perennially threatened our planet and our national security.  And together, we’ve begun to change that — a lot of people in this room working with us.  Yes, we’ve become the world’s number-one producer of oil and natural gas, but we’ve also become a major player in clean energy.  And these advances have helped to grow our economy and created a steady stream of well-paying jobs.  They’ve also helped us reduce the dangerous emissions that contribute to climate change.  And we’ve done it in three big ways.

First of all, we’re wasting less energy.  We’ve set new fuel economy standards on cars and trucks, new efficiency standards on appliances like refrigerators and dishwashers — and these advances are already saving folks money at the pump; it’s saving money on their electricity bills.  And steps like these also mean that factories and businesses aren’t just paying for energy, they’re getting paid not to waste energy.  The economy as a whole is producing a lot more using less energy.  And we’re also using less dirty energy.

Earlier this month, I unveiled our Clean Power Plan — the first set of nationwide standards to end the limitless dumping of carbon pollution from our power plants, the single most important step America has ever taken to combat climate change.  The Clean Power Plan is also going to accelerate the third way that we’re cutting emissions, creating jobs, saving folks money — and that’s by generating more clean energy.

When I took office, I pledged to double our production of wind and solar by the end of my first term.  We met that goal ahead of schedule.  (Applause.)  As Harry just mentioned, six years ago, the Recovery Act marked the single biggest investment in clean energy in our history.  And by the way, what we did was not revolutionary.  We did what the federal government has always done — we invested in promising new technologies to spur private sector investment and innovation all across the country.

Today, there are thousands of renewable energy projects employing tens of thousands of Americans all across the country. Right here in Nevada, for example, renewable energy generation has increased 180 percent since I took office.  Today, America is number one in wind power, generating three times as much wind energy as we did in 2008.  There are now more than 500 wind manufacturers across 43 states supplying the wind industry — an industry that supports more than 50,000 jobs and supplies enough energy to power 16 million homes.

Some states have made even greater strides.  Last year, for example, Iowa generated nearly 30 percent of its electricity from the wind.  And if we keep investing in wind, rather than making shortsighted cuts or chasing mindless austerity, wind could provide as much as 35 percent of America’s electricity and supply renewable power in all 50 states by the year 2050.  (Applause.)

As well as we’re doing in wind, we’re making even more progress on solar.  (Applause.)  I notice you got a lot of sun around here.  (Laughter.)  America generates 20 times as much solar power as we did in 2008 — 20 times.  Last year was solar’s biggest year ever.  Prices fell by 10 percent; installations climbed by 30 percent.  Every three minutes, another home or business in America goes solar.  Every three weeks, we install as much solar capacity as we did in all of 2008.  And the world’s largest solar installation came online last year, with 9 million solar panels generating enough electricity to power more than 100,000 homes with clean, renewable energy — not in Germany, not in China, not in Saudi Arabia — right here in the United States of America. (Applause.)

In fact, over the past six years, the federal government has approved 34 commercial-scale solar projects and the transmission infrastructure that goes with them on public lands across the West.  We approved one new project just today in California that will ultimately power another 100,000-plus homes.  And right here in Las Vegas, we’ve cut the time it takes to permit solar projects in half.  (Applause.)

And one of the reasons we’ve done this is not just because it’s good for the environment and good for the overall economy — it takes workers to install all this new capacity.  And that’s why, last year, the solar industry added jobs 10 times faster than the rest of the economy.  Solar has helped a lot of construction workers find work while Congress was dragging its feet on funding infrastructure projects.  In fact, the solar industry now employs twice as many Americans as mining coal.  (Applause.)  We’re helping more veterans find work with our Solar Ready Vets Program, with a goal of training 75,000 solar workers who have been veterans by 2020.  That is a goal we can achieve.  (Applause.)

So federal investments have helped support all this innovation, and now is not the time to pull back on those investments.  Now is not the time to insist on massive cuts to the investments in R&D that help drive our economy, including the hundreds of millions of dollars in cuts that many Republicans want to take from these successful, job-creating clean energy programs.  It’s thanks in part to these investments that there are already places across the country where clean power from the sun is finally cheaper than conventional power from your utility — power often generated by burning coal or gas.  (Applause.)

And it’s impossible to overstate what this means.  For decades, we’ve been told that it doesn’t make economic sense to switch to renewable energy.  Today, that’s no longer true.  (Applause.)  And you don’t have to take my word for it.  Many of our biggest businesses are backing up that fact.  Walmart has the most installed on-site solar capacity of any company in America. They’re not in the business of giving away money.  (Laughter.)   Google is the largest corporate buyer of renewable energy in the world; companies like Apple and Costco close behind.  They’re not doing this just out of altruism.  They’re doing it because it means big cost savings.  And that can mean big things for local communities.

I’ll just give you one example.  Google plans to retrofit the site of a retired coal plant in Alabama into a data hub run entirely on renewable energy.  Recently, they created a new online tool that lets you plug in your address to see if solar power is the smart choice for you.

So if you care about climate change, the very fact that companies realize clean energy and energy efficiency are not only cost-effective but cost-saving should give you a big jolt of hope.

The point is America is making incredible progress on this issue.  And that’s one of the reasons why I recently committed this country to getting 20 percent of our energy from renewables beyond hydroelectric power by 2030.  (Applause.)  And, by the way, when we do smart things in America, that wakes up the world. So Brazil’s President joined me for that announcement, committed her country to the same goal.  But to meet that goal, we have to triple where we are today.  So I’m here to give you hope, but not complacency.

The private sector is increasingly all in.  Cities and states are increasingly doing their part.  Just today, 15 cities from Seattle to Chicago to New York are joining 19 cities that have already pledged to reduce emissions and invest in climate resilience.  Leaders in California are aiming to generate 50 percent of their electricity from renewables by 2030 — 50 percent — while cutting carbon pollution from oil by 50 percent. (Applause.)

And as long as I’m President, the federal government is going to do its part beyond the investments that we’ve already made to promote this issue.  So last month, we announced a new initiative to make it easier for businesses and low-income households to install low-cost solar.  Today, we’re announcing new public- and private- sector commitments that will add new solar capacity on more than 40 military bases.  (Applause.)  And that’s an investment that will create jobs, save taxpayer dollars and reduce emissions.

The Department of Energy is announcing a new push to deploy innovative “distributed energy” resources like micro-grids or rooftop solar with battery storage, and will offer loan guarantees for projects like these.  And we’re going to make it even easier for individual homeowners to put solar panels on their roof with no upfront cost.  So specifically, we’re going to take steps to expand the use of a tool we call PACE, which helps you pay for solar panels through the future savings on your energy bills.  (Applause.)

So we’re taking steps that allow more Americans to join this revolution with no money down.  You don’t have to share my passion for fighting climate change.  A lot of Americans are going solar and becoming more energy efficient not because they’re tree huggers — although trees, you know, are important
— (laughter) — just want you to know — but because they’re cost-cutters.  They like saving money.  And I’m all for a consumer saving money, because that means they can spend it on other stuff.  Solar isn’t just for the green crowd anymore — it’s for the green eyeshade crowd, too.  (Laughter.)

Now, we’ve still got a lot of work to do and significant obstacles remain.  And obviously, all of you know that very well. For all the promise of solar, it’s still a small share of our economy in energy mix — less than 1 percent.  Wind makes up almost 5 percent.  But here’s the thing:  Solar made up almost one-third of all new generating capacity last year.  Wind power made up another 20 percent.  So we see the trend lines.  We see where technology is taking us.  We see where consumers want to go.  And that, let’s be honest, has some big fossil fuel interests pretty nervous — to the point where they’re trying to fight renewable energy.  (Applause.)

Now, it’s one thing if you’re consistent in being free market.  It’s another thing when you’re free market until it’s solar that’s working and people want to buy, and suddenly you’re not for it anymore.  (Laughter.)  That’s a problem.

There’s a big shift going underway that goes beyond simply putting solar panels on your home.  Yes, the number of homes with rooftop solar has grown from fewer than 20,000 to about 600,000 over the past decade or so.  More than 80 percent of that capacity was added in the past four years.  But the real revolution going on here is that people are beginning to realize they can take more control over their own energy — what they use, how much, when.

For decades, our energy system basically worked one way:  Utilities generated power, usually by burning fossil fuels.  They ran lines into the home or business.  We paid for it.  It wasn’t a real exciting business, there wasn’t a lot of innovation.  We didn’t think about it much in our daily lives — until the energy bill came in the mail.  And the economy grew under that model, at a time when we were less worried about dependence on foreign fuels, and at a time when we were less conscious about the impacts it was having on the environment.

But in just a few short years, that’s begun to change in a profound way.  Six years ago, smart meters were pretty rare. Today, 60 million consumers have access to detailed information about how much energy we use, how we use it, when we use it.  So we can use that information to change our habits, use energy more efficiently, save more money without a whole lot of sacrifice.  We can control our thermostats from our smartphones.  New appliances and smart devices can tell when energy prices are cheapest, and do laundry, or wash the dishes, or charge our car at those times.

We’ve got windows and building materials that can actually generate power.  And we can even tell our utility company that we want our homes powered by renewable energy, or we can call up a contractor and put solar panels on our roof by the weekend — and that empowers us not only to generate affordable clean energy, but to store it in battery packs, or sell it back to the grid.

That’s power.  That’s the future.  That’s happening right now.  It’s an American energy revolution that’s like evolving from the telegraph to the smartphone in less than a decade.  It’s happening fast.

Now, the good news is some utilities recognize this; they see what’s happening.  They’re adapting their business model to seize the opportunities of this emerging energy reality.  We have to lift up some of those success stories and the innovations that are taking place.

So San Antonio’s municipal utility is standing up its own rooftop solar program.  Southern Company is partnering with Nest and Tesla on power storage so we can use renewable energy better. Oklahoma Gas and Electric is empowering its customers to enroll in smart metering that uses electricity when it’s cheaper, not when it’s most expensive.

But while change this fast presents new opportunities, it is invariably going to create resistance from some fossil fuel interests who want to protect the old, outdated status quo.  And there are some legitimate issues around how does a new distributed system work, and folks have some costs and how do we deal with those things, and those are important for us to address.  But when you start seeing massive lobbying efforts backed by fossil fuel interests, or conservative think tanks, 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.  That’s rent seeking and trying to protect old ways of doing business and standing in the way of the future.

I mean, think about this.  Ordinarily, these are groups that tout themselves as champions of the free market.  If you start talking to them about providing health care for folks who don’t have health insurance, they’re going crazy — “this is socialism, this is going to destroy America.”  But in this situation, they’re trying to undermine competition in the marketplace, and choke off consumer choice, and threaten an industry that’s churning out new jobs at a fast pace.  (Applause.)  And that has the potential to hurt a lot of communities — and set back America’s leadership in fighting climate change.  They’re even fighting to protect billions of dollars of taxpayer dollars in corporate welfare each year that’s going to fossil fuel companies.

Now, what’s interesting is that their actions have conjured up some pretty strange bedfellows.  In some states, we got Green Party and Tea Party teaming up to protect our freedom to choose clean energy.  It is rare that the Tea Party leaders and I are on the same side of an issue.  (Laughter.)  I agree with them here. (Applause.)  And just because I agree with them, I don’t want them to change their minds now.  (Laughter.)  I promise there are all kinds of other things you can whoop me.  (Laughter.)

But this is important, and they are absolutely right on this fight.  This is not, and should not be, a Republican-versus-Democratic issue.  (Applause.)  This should be an issue that can bring everybody together.  (Applause.)  If you’re a progressive, you should care about this.  If you’re a libertarian, you should care about this.  If you just want to save some money, you should care about it.  And if you care about the future of our children and grandchildren, you should care about it.  (Applause.)

So here, and across the country, this is about whether big polluters control the system, or whether consumers have freedom to choose cleaner, cheaper, more efficient energy; whether we protect old ways of doing business even when they’re not efficient, or we dream up new business models that bring new technologies into our homes and businesses, and new jobs into our communities.  This is about the past versus the future.  And America believes in the future.

And to make that future a reality, we got to have everybody — utilities, entrepreneurs, workers, businesses, consumers, energy regulators, tree huggers, Tea Partiers — everybody has got to seize the opportunities before us.

There is something big happening in America right now.  For the first time, we can actually see what our clean energy future looks like.  And, yes, the closer we get to this future, the opposition will fight even harder to keep things the way they’ve been.  Folks will get louder in some of the backlash, and they’ll put out press releases suggesting that somehow this is bad for America.  We can’t pay attention to that.  Folks whose interests or ideologies run counter to where we need to go, we’ve got to be able to politely, but firmly say, sorry, we’re moving forward.  (Applause.)

And anybody who suggests that moving to a clean energy economy is going to somehow cripple our economy, or lead to fewer jobs, if they hold up snowballs in February as if that somehow disproves decades of scientific data — (laughter) — if they suggest that we’ve got to set our sights lower and do less or delay action because we can’t figure this stuff out — I just want everybody to remember, we’ve heard these arguments before.  We have engaged in this debate many times before.  It’s taken different forms, but this is an age-old debate in America.  It’s a debate between the folks who say, “no, we can’t,” and the folks who say, “yes, we can.”  (Applause.)  Between those who fear the future and those who are eager to seize the future.
And although sometimes there are some growing pains, America always comes down on the side of the future.  We’ve always been a people who reach — proudly and boldly and unafraid — for that more promising future.  We refuse to surrender the hope of a clean energy future to those who fear it and fight it, and sometimes provide misinformation about it.

Because the naysayers always underestimate what the American people are capable of.  We prove that every day.  All across this country, right now, you’ve got once-dusty plains and rundown buildings that are now solar fields and rooftop arrays.  All across this country, right now, once-shuttered factories are humming, retraining workers to build wind turbines — technology that we’re not just importing now, now we’re making it here and we’re exporting it — technology made in America.  (Applause.)  All across this country, once-darkened plants are now full of rehired autoworkers manufacturing some of the world’s most energy-efficient cars — cars that make you proud to be an American.  (Applause.)

This generation of Americans is hammering into place the high-tech foundations of a clean energy age.  It’s the same people who first harnessed the power of the atom, the power of the sun; the same spirit of people who connected the continent by road and by rail, who connected the world through our science and our imaginations; the same people who set foot on the Moon, and put a rover on Mars, and probes the farthest reaches of our solar system.

That’s what Americans do.  We can do anything.  And you guys are proving it every single day, and I’m going to be right there beside you.  Congratulations.  (Applause.)

God bless you.  God bless this country we love.  Thank you.  (Applause.)

Conversations