May 28, 2009 / 1:05 PM / 11 years ago

Obama touts solar power to break U.S. oil addiction

NELLIS AIR FORCE BASE, Nevada (Reuters) - President Barack Obama provided a spending boost to the solar and geothermal energy industries on Wednesday and said increased use of the fuels would make America more secure.

U.S. President Barack Obama (C) inspects an array of solar panels with U.S. Senate Majority Leader Harry Reid (R) and Col. Howard Belote, base commander at Nellis Air Force Base in Las Vegas, Nevada May 27, 2009. Obama marked the 100th day of the American Recovery and Reinvestment Act by highlighting the development and use of geothermal and solar energy. REUTERS/Jason Reed

“We know the cost of our oil addiction all too well,” Obama said in a speech at Nellis Air Force Base, which is home to the biggest solar electric plant in the Western Hemisphere.

“It’s the cost measured by the billions of dollars we send to nations with unstable or unfriendly regimes. We help to fund both sides of the war on terror because of our addiction to oil,” Obama said, one week before visiting Saudi Arabia, the world’s top oil exporter, to discuss the nuclear standoff with Iran and reviving the Israeli-Palestinian peace process.

Obama said the federal government would spend $467 million from the recent $787 billion U.S. economic stimulus package to expand and accelerate the development and use of solar and geothermal energy throughout the United States.

“More than 72,000 solar panels built on part of an old landfill provide 25 percent of the electricity for the 12,000 people who live and work here at Nellis. That’s the equivalent of powering about 13,200 homes during the day,” Obama said.

“We have to lay a new foundation for prosperity, a foundation constructed on the pillars that will grow our economy and help America compete in the 21st century. And a renewable energy revolution is one of those pillars.

Nevada Senator Harry Reid said the state’s solar and geothermal resources gave it the potential to be the “Saudi Arabia ... for renewable energy.”

The U.S. solar energy industry grew about 9 percent in 2008, but the recession cut demand for some solar installations. The housing crisis led to a 3 percent decline in shipments of solar pool heating systems — the largest segment of the sector by capacity.

The U.S. Energy Department in March offered its first loan guarantee, worth $535 million, to Fremont, California, solar company Solyndra Inc. under a long-delayed advanced clean energy program created by a 2005 energy law.

Obama stressed that finding new sources of energy was inextricably linked to the country’s economic prosperity.

“So we’ve got a choice. We can remain the world’s leading importer of oil, sending our money and our wealth away, or we can become the world’s leading exporter of clean energy,” he said.

Editing by Cynthia Osterman

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