America will soon be getting more of its energy from the sun than ever, thanks to a planned expansion in solar power production that President Obama announced Friday at a Walmart store in California.
The announcement follows the release of his administration’s 2014 Climate Assessment report, which signaled the president’s shift toward an agenda focused more on environmental policy.
More than 300 public and private entities have committed to making their buildings more energy efficient and increasing their reliance on solar power, according to a White House fact sheet released shortly before the president’s announcement. The new solar power energy produced could power almost 130,000 homes. The projected energy efficiency savings are, according to the president, “the equivalent of taking 80 million cars off the road.”
During Friday event in Mountain View, Calif., the president jabbed at “climate deniers” in Washington and repudiated the argument that climate change mitigation and economic growth are mutually exclusive goals.
“It will be good for the economy long-term,” he said. “And if we don’t [mitigate climate change], that will be bad for the economy. Rising sea levels, drought, wildfire, more severe storms – those are bad for the economy. So we can’t afford to wait.”
Shortly before the president’s speech, the White House announced that solar panels had been installed on the first family’s residence. Yet the new panels, while they will surely reduce the Obama family’s carbon footprint, are unlikely to bring it down to the level of even an average American family. Carbon emissions are, to a certain extent, an inextricable part of the presidency; case in point, the president’s frequent use of Air Force One, a Boeing 747, to travel nationally and internationally. Planes of that model burn about five gallons of fuel per mile.
While the new solar investments will bring the United States closer to the front of the pack when it comes to renewable resources, Germany will likely still lead the world in solar power generation.
Solar power announcement aside, the president’s speech marked another milestone: According to Walmart USA president and CEO Bill Simon, it was the first time that a sitting president has ever visited a Walmart store.
Not everyone was pleased about the choice of venue, which coincided with Walmart’s announcement that it would “double the number of on-site solar energy projects” at U.S. facilities by 2020. For the past year and a half, the retail goliath has been locked in a prolonged labor struggle with the workers’ group OUR Walmart, which accuses the company of paying poverty-level wages and enforcing miserable working conditions.
When the president arrived at the Mountain View Walmart, he was met by protesters from the group. The day before, Salon published an op-ed from local OUR Walmart member Pam Ramos, asking the president to “help us and tell Wal-Mart to pay us enough to cover the bills and take care of our families.”
Obama also got some pushback from prominent supporters, including former Clinton Labor Secretary Robert Reich.
“Obama should use this opportunity not to praise Walmart but to condemn it for its irresponsible labor practices, to call for it to allow its workers to unionize, and meet with Walmart workers to hear first-hand about how they’re treated,” wrote Reich in a Facebook post.