From Wal-Mart to the White House, Obama talks up expansion of solar power

At a Wal-Mart in Mountain View, Calif., on Friday, President Obama announced executive orders to increase the use of solar panels and boost energy efficiency in federal buildings. (Reuters)

President Obama on Friday announced new measures to expand solar energy deployment in the private and public sectors, as the White House completed the final installation of solar panels on the first family’s residence.

Speaking at a Wal-Mart here that has been retrofitted with solar panels, new light bulbs and other energy-efficient features, Obama said he will work to encourage companies throughout the country to do the same.

“More and more companies like Wal-Mart are realizing that wasting less energy isn’t just good for the planet, it’s good for business,” he said. “It’s good for the bottom line. And it means jobs.”

Obama made the remarks on the last day of a West Coast swing that focused on fundraising for this year’s midterm campaigns.

The president announced a combination of pledges from companies such as Apple and Home Depot and federal agencies such as the Treasury Department and the Department of Housing and Urban Development. He praised a Wal-Mart promise to double the number of solar projects it will have at its stores and distribution centers by 2020.

The actions Obama announced Friday were part of the president’s efforts to use executive actions to bypass Republicans in Congress.

In addition, the administration said, the Energy Department issued two new efficiency rules Friday that will cut the energy consumption of new electric motors and walk-in coolers and freezers. The department also unveiled training programs at community colleges across the country that are designed to help 50,000 workers enter the solar industry by 2020.

The administration also said it will devote $2 billion to improving energy efficiency at federal buildings by 2016 and will approve the industry’s latest commercial building energy code, which is 8.5 percent more efficient.

Taken together, the initiatives translate into more than 850 megawatts of solar power and energy-efficiency investments in more than 1 billion square feet of buildings, the administration said.

Joshua Freed, who directs the clean-energy program at the centrist think tank Third Way, said Friday’s announcements are “an excellent example” of the administration pursuing “a pragmatic approach of taking on every small and medium-sized opportunity the federal government can take to accelerate the deployment of clean energy.”

The completion of the solar panel installation project at the White House comes nearly three decades after President Ronald Reagan dismantled panels that President Jimmy Carter had put on the roof.

In a White House video, Energy Secretary Ernest Moniz said putting solar panels on the residence is “a really important message that solar is here.”

The administration provided few details about the project, although it said that every component had been made in America and that it would pay for itself in energy savings over the next eight years. When the plan for new panels was first announced in 2010, officials said the administration would conduct a competitive bidding process to buy between 20 and 50 solar panels.

The administration has not disclosed the exact location of the panels.

“Being at the White House, we do have some security concerns,” White House usher James Doherty says in the video. “We can’t cover the entire roof with panels, though that would be good from an energy savings standpoint.”

Eilperin reported from Washington.

Zachary A. Goldfarb is a staff writer covering the White House, focusing on President Obama’s economic, financial and fiscal policy.
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