President Obama at Wal-Mart to Talk About Solar Power

President Obama speaks about energy programs at Mountain View Wal-Mart store on Friday. (Stephen Lam/Getty Images)
President Obama speaks about energy programs at Mountain View Wal-Mart store on Friday. (Stephen Lam/Getty Images)

President Obama appeared at a Wal-Mart store in Mountain View today to promote White House efforts to speed adoption of solar power and energy efficiency.

Why did Obama choose Wal-Mart? Well, the company is known for its rapid adoption of new technologies, and it’s announcing today that it will double the installation of solar power at its stores nationwide.

Here are the raw, unedited pool reports on the Wal-Mart visit of the president, who departed the Bay Area from Moffett Field at 10:34 a.m. First, the report from Josh Richman of the Bay Area News Group:

Flanked by patio lights for $4.47 and women’s tops for $14.44, President Obama stepped to the podium in the Walmart store in Mountain View, Calif., at 9:47 a.m.

After three days on the West Coast, he said, he must get back to Washington because Sunday is Mothers Day. “That is a public service announcement – don’t forget it’s Mothers Day.”

“This may look like a typical Walmart but it’s not, and that’s why I’m here,” he said, citing the store’s solar panels, LED lighting and updated refrigeration systems that save energy and help create jobs.

The nation is recovering from tough times, he said, citing the auto industry’s resurgence, national job creation, the end of war in Iraq and impending end of war in Afghanistan, and enactment of Obamacare. “Today America is closer to energy independence than it has been in decades,” Obama said, noting increased domestic oil and gas production. “We’re producing more traditional energy but we’re also becoming a leader in the energy sources of the future.”

The cost of solar panels has fallen by 60 percent and panel production has increased 500 percent, he said. “Solar is getting cheaper and is getting easier to use than before.”

“We’ve got more work to do and I want to work with Congress to do it,” he said, although not everyone in Congress is of like mind.

Making buildings more energy efficient is key to combating climate change and would create construction jobs, he said, so three years ago he announced Better Buildings Initiative. “Already we’ve got 190 businesses and organizations that have signed on … Together they’ve already saved $300 million in energy costs.”

Walmart has just committed to doubling the number of on-site solar energy projects at its U.S. stores, Sam’s Clubs and distributions by 2020 – part of the company’s global initiative to drive production or procurement of 7 billion kilowatt-hours of renewable energy by that end of that year. Walmart already is the number-one commercial solar energy user, according to the Solar Energy Industry Association, and is recognized as the largest on-site renewable energy user in America by the EPA’s Green Power Partnership.

The Mountain View store in which Obama spoke now gets 14.5 percent of its energy from solar systems built and installed by SolarCity, based in nearby San Mateo and one of Walmart’s biggest solar vendors. SolarCity says its projects with Walmart alone have created an estimated 9,000 construction jobs in the United States, and SolarCity itself has created an additional 5,000 permanent American jobs since it did its first project with Walmart in 2010.

The company also this week formally signed onto the Department of Energy’s Better Buildings Initiative, confirming its commitment to reducing the energy intensity of Walmart’s U.S. buildings 20 percent from 2010 by 2020.

“Folks in the private sector are doing their part” to cut energy waste, and the public sector will do the same, Obama said, announcing that the federal government will redouble its efforts to make its own buildings more energy efficient.

“Last month I called up leaders from a whole range of industries and made the case” for solar, he said. Companies like Apple have pledged to use more solar, banks are pledging more to finance investments in solar energy, and schools are gearing up to teach workers the skills they need to do work in the solar sector.

“We know that generating more clean energy… can be good for businesses and consumers, and it’s also good for the world we leave to our children,” Obama said. “Rising sea levels, drought, more wildfires, more severe storms – those aren’t good for the economy … Climate change is real and we have to act now.”

Even Republicans outside Washington realize this, but “inside of Washington we’ve got climate change deniers who are wasting everybody’s time.”

“As Americans we don’t look backward, we look forward. We don’t fear the future, we seize it… We are blessed when it comes to energy but we are much more blessed when it comes to the innovation and dynamism of our economy.”

The President finished speaking at 10:02 a.m.

Outside, labor union members and other activists decried the president’s presence at a company they say offers low wages, unreliable hours and few benefits while discriminating against women and taking a hard line against unions. Carrying signs and chanting slogans, they said Walmart is a major driver of the income inequality that Obama often talks about trying to narrow.

And here’s the pool filing from the San Francisco Chronicle’s Carla Marinucci, who also takes note of Wal-Mart’s merchandise pricing:

The solar energy event was held on the floor of the Mt. View Wal-Mart, in what appeared to be the women’s wear and socks department.

Crowds outside in the parking lot gathered to glimpse the motorcade arrival.

Spotted in the audience inside was Christine Pelosi, daughter of House Minority Leader Nancy Pelosi and head of the California Democratic Party women’s caucus, who said she met with the president beforehand and spoke to him about women’s issues.

Surrounded by $5.44 tee shirts and $11.96 American flag bathing suits, the presidential podium was set up before a crowd of about 200 in folding chairs — 85 Wal Mart “associates” and invited guests.

Total program was about 15 minutes. At the close, audience — very enthusiastic — broke into Wal-Mart cheers.

Bill Simon, president and CEO of Wal-Mart US, introduced the program, saying that he believed this to be the first time a sitting president has visited a Wal-Mart.

“For the first time in a generation, the availability for domestic energy is increasingly becoming a competitive advantage in the US,” and renewables are key to that, Simon said. “Today, we’re taking the next step in that journey,” he said, adding that the firm is commtted to doubling the number of onsite solar energy projects at U.S. stores, “and these projects will be installed by American workers.” “We expect a ripple effect on jobs in this effort,” he said. “It’s right for our country, it’s right for our planet, and it’s right for our bottom line.”

“The more solar we install, the more prices drop for everybody who’s involved in solar energy,” he said.

“We appreciate the president for being here..and we look forward to being part of the solution” on energy issues, he said.

President took the podium to the waves and cheers of the crowd. Please check transcript for full quotes.

“Hello Mt. View,” he said. “We’re here in the Bay Area, but I have to get back, because Sunday is.. what?” The crowd responded, “Mother’s Day.”

“Mothers day..that is a public service anouncement,” he said. “.Do not forget.”

He said he asked his wife why Mothers Day, not Fathers day, is so important. Her response: “”Every day other than Mother’s Day is Father’s day.”

The president said that “this looks like a typical WalMart, but it is different.”

The store made the initiative to create jobs and become energy efficient with moves that included putting in “a charging station for electric vehicles.” “More and more companies like Wal-Mart are realizing that wasting less energy isn’t just good for the planet…it’s good for the bottom line,” he said. “And it means jobs.”

“When I took office, we set out to break our dependence on foreign oil…” he said. Now “we generate more renewable energy than anyone,” and “we produce more natural gas than anyone,” he said.

“We set new fuel standards for our cars and trucks…and for the first time, America produces more oil here at home than we buy from other countries.”

Now, “we’re becoming a global leader in solar…over the past few years, the cost of solar panels have fallen by 60 percent,” hes said.”Every four minutes, another American businessess goes solar.”

So today, “no matter where you live or where you do business, solar is getting cheaper” he said.

“Manufacturers are getting more innnovative, and more jobs are created,” he said. “But we got more work to do, and I want to work with Congress to do it.” “Unfortunately, Congress has not always been as visionary as we would like.” But if there are opportunities to create new jobs “on my own,” he said, “I’m going to take it.”

Obamna announced what he said were steps “that are good for job growth, good for the eocnomy, and that we don’t have to wait for Congress to do.”

1. “Making buildings more energy efficient are one of the easiest ways to create jobs” and affect climate change

“When you save that money, you can pass that back to consumers,” he said.

And “I’m making sure the federael government does it part,” he said, by ordering a $2 billion in “upgrades” in federal buildings that will “create thousands of construction jobs and save taxpaeyrs billions of dollars.”

2. Encouraging the use of more solar energy, from more investments to more training at community colleges to help boost 50,000 new jobs by 2020. The initiatives I’m introducing today, he said, “prove “there are cost effective ways to tackle climate change and create jobs at the same time.”

Rising sea levels, drought, more wildfaires, “those are bad for the eocnomy. So we can’t afford to wait,” Obama said.

“Climate change is real, and we have to act now,” he said. “Unfortunately, inside of Washington, we’ve still got some climate deniers who shout loud, but they’re wasting everybody’s time,” he said. “We’ve got to make some tough choices along the way.”.

“That’s what Wal-Mart understands, and Wal-Mart’s pretty good counting its pennies.”

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Dan Brekke

Dan Brekke has worked in media ever since Nixon's first term, when newspapers were still using hot type. He had moved on to online news by the time Bill Clinton met Monica Lewinsky. He's been at KQED since 2007, is an enthusiastic practitioner of radio and online journalism and will talk to you about absolutely anything. Reach Dan Brekke at dbrekke@kqed.org.

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