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On Western Swing, President Obama to Stump for Clean Energy in Colorado

President Obama boards Air Force One at Buckley Air Force Base during a previous visit to the base on Feb. 18, 2010.
Pete Souza
White House
President Obama boards Air Force One at Buckley Air Force Base during a previous visit to the base on Feb. 18, 2010.

Fresh off his State of the Union address, President Barack Obama has embarked on a five-state campaign-style tour which will include a brief stop today in the Denver area. Mr. Obama is scheduled to give a speech on “new energy” at Buckley Air Force Base in Aurora.

KUNC’s Kirk Siegler reports on the significance of both the topic and the venue.

End to Big Oil Subsidies

In his State of the Union speech, President Obama once again called on Congress to pass a national renewable energy standard; something some states like Colorado have already done.  He also called for an end to oil subsidies to level the playing field for clean energy.

 “It’s time to end the taxpayer giveaways to an industry that has rarely been more profitable and double down on a clean energy industry that never has been more promising,” President Obama said Tuesday.

The president’s words were not a surprise to some observers.   

“I think it will divide voters in this state, just like it’s divided voters across the country,” said Eric Sondermann, a veteran Colorado political analyst. 

A State Divided

Nowhere, he said, is the energy issue more polarizing than in Colorado.  The state’s economy has seen big gains in the clean energy field in recent years.  But more recently, a re-surging oil and gas boom especially along the Front Range has been filling local coffers.

Still, Sondermann said it’s a wise political move for Mr. Obama’s re-election efforts to come here and focus on clean energy and its potential to create manufacturing and other jobs.

“Renewable energy has worked,” Sondermann said. “Bill Ritter made that his signature calling card, and Barack Obama, back when he was running for office in 2008, made clear that he was going to ride that train.”

But Colorado’s clean energy train has sputtered lately. Golden’s National Renewable Energy Lab is facing across-the-board cuts. There are also concerns of more layoffs at some of the region’s larger solar and wind manufacturing plants such as Vestas, as demand has slipped in part due to China’s rise on the green scene. 

The president will no doubt address this in Aurora, where he’s also expected to echo many of the themes in his State of the Union.

“I will not walk away from the promise of clean energy,” Mr. Obama said in his SOTU speech.

Clean Energy Jobs

A commitment like that sounds encouraging to many Coloradans who work in the clean energy sector.  The state now boasts more per-capita jobs in solar power than any other state and Laurent Meillon, who runs a Castle Rock-based company called Capitol Solar Energy, wants to keep it that way.

“I think everyone in the country, from the car industry to others, is seeking ways to regenerate jobs in the United States,” Meillon said.

Meillon won’t get to attend Mr. Obama’s Colorado speech since it’s closed to the public.  But he said if he had the president’s ear, he’d tell him that his field, solar-thermal technology, is a sleeping giant in Colorado.

“We’re in a time where obviously our president needs to focus on economic recovery and job creation,” Meillon said. “And solar thermal works surprisingly well with that plot.”

Politics over Policy

In the end though, Mr. Obama’s Colorado visit is probably less about policy and more about politics, said analyst Eric Sonderman. 

Even though it’s just a wheels-down/wheels-up event at Buckley Air Force Base, it shouldn’t be lost that the president has chosen Arapahoe County.

“This president is going to spend a bunch of time in Arapahoe County, Jefferson County, Larimer County, other places like that that are not only parts of a swing state, but they are swing counties in a swing state,” Sonderman said.

The president will make his latest visit to Colorado after a similarly brief stop in Las Vegas.

Kirk Siegler reports for NPR, based out of NPR West in California.
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