In Las Vegas speech, Obama touts continued clean energy investment


Steve Marcus

President Barack Obama delivers the keynote address during the National Clean Energy Summit 8.0 on Monday, Aug. 24, 2015, at Mandalay Bay Convention Center.

Published Mon, Aug 24, 2015 (4:50 p.m.)

Updated Mon, Aug 24, 2015 (8:25 p.m.)

President Barack Obama told a crowd in Las Vegas today that now "is not the time to pull back" on federal investment in renewable energy projects.

The president's remark came during a speech at the National Clean Energy Summit, organized by Nevada Sen. Harry Reid, where Obama pledged $1 billion in federal loan guarantees for rooftop solar panels on American homes. The administration will use an existing federal program to distribute the money.

The president also announced that he would create programs to provide no-money-down solar panels to consumers nationwide.

Obama’s speech comes amid ongoing controversy over solar power in the state of Nevada. Mandalay Bay, where the president spoke, is currently attempting to leave NV Energy and produce its own power, a move that could subject it to at least $88 million in exit fees. The roof of the hotel’s convention center is home to one of the largest rooftop solar arrays in the world.

The president took a veiled swipe at NV Energy, praising local utilities in Oklahoma and Texas that were embracing solar, and adding: “(consumers) can tell (their) utility company that they want renewable energy and have solar on the roof by the weekend. That’s power. That’s the future. It’s an American energy revolution. Good utilities recognize this and are adapting business models to seize the opportunities of this emerging energy reality."

Obama said that the nation as a whole was in the middle of a large-scale transition towards new forms of energy production. “Clean power from the sun is cheaper than conventional power from the utility,” he said. “It is impossible to overstate what this means. For decades we’ve been told that it’s not possible to switch to renewable energy. Today that is no longer true.”

The president's visit underscores his close relationship with Reid. The two politicians have been among the most outspoken on climate change and have worked on projects to cut the prices of solar panels and reduce carbon emissions.

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President Barack Obama delivers the keynote address during the National Clean Energy Summit 8.0 at the Mandalay Bay Convention Center Monday, Aug. 24, 2015.

Obama used the speech to take a swipe at one of Reid’s favorite targets, the conservative mega-donors Charles and David Koch, saying, "massive lobbing efforts backed by the fossil fuel (industry), conservative think tanks or the Koch Brothers to roll back renewable energy standards or prevent new clean energy businesses from succeeding (are) a problem. That’s not the American way."

The president also praised Reid’s recently-announced support for his deal with Iran over its nuclear program.

The speech follows Obama's announcement this month of his “Clean Power Plan" that would limit U.S. emissions by more than 30 percent in the next 15 years. Obama said that policy was the “single most important step America has ever taken to combat climate change.”

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Clark County Commission Chairman Steve Sisolak, left, and Governor Brian Sandoval welcome at McCarran International Airport Monday, Aug. 24, 2015. Obama delivered the keynote address at the National Clean Energy Summit 8.0 in the Mandalay Bay Convention Center.

Elsewhere in his 27-minute speech, which wrapped up at 5:40 p.m., Obama said there were strange bedfellows forming on renewable power.

"In some states we have the Green Party and the Tea Party teaming up (for) clean energy," he said. "It is rare that the Tea Party leaders and I are on the same side of an issue. I agree with them here,” he said, adding, "just because I agree with them I don’t want them to change their minds.”

After arriving in Las Vegas aboard Air Force One at 4:21 p.m. local time, Obama spoke briefly with Gov. Brian Sandoval, Mayor Carolyn Goodman and Clark County Commission Chairman Steve Sisolak after getting off the plane. Goodman handed Obama what she called a "brag sheet" touting Las Vegas' efforts to use green energy and promote energy efficiency, and Sandoval joined Obama in his motorcade.

The introduction to Obama's speech began with a performance on the state's song, "Home Means Nevada," by Brandon Flowers of the rock band The Killers. Flowers is a Nevada native.

MGM Resorts CEO Jim Murren followed Flowers, applauding the White House's American Businesses Act on Climate Pledge, which calls to eliminate 6 billion tons of carbon pollution through 2030. Murren committed to join that initiative by reducing MGM Resorts' energy consumption by 20 percent by 2020.

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Brandon Flowers, left, of the "Killers" sings "Home Means Nevada" before President Barack Obama's keynote address during the National Clean Energy Summit 8.0 at the Mandalay Bay Convention Center Monday, Aug. 24, 2015.

Then came Reid, who said Obama would "forever be remembered as the leader who "finally put the world on a path to stop climate change." Reid received a standing ovation from a crowd of 1,000 people, as estimated by event organizers.

Reid called climate change the greatest challenge of our time, and praised Obama for taking action administratively when legislative action wasn't working.

"There is no place better than Nevada to see the fruits of these labors," Reid said.

Obama has visited Las Vegas 14 times and other parts of Nevada four times during presidency.

"It shows how deeply devoted he is to Nevada and its people," Reid said.

From the convention center, Obama traveled to the home of Las Vegas Sun owner and publisher Brian Greenspun for a fundraiser for former Nevada Attorney General Catherine Cortez Masto, a Democrat running for Reid's seat. After Reid endorsed Masto to be his successor, Rep. Joe Heck, R-Nev., announced he would seek Reid's seat.

Obama's visit caused traffic delays Monday, as his motorcade moved through the valley. Several evening commuters took to social media, lamenting waits of over an hour in the Green Valley area.

Obama is expected to stay the night in the Las Vegas area and return to Washington Tuesday morning.

The Associated Press contributed to this report.

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