Kevin Lamarque/Reuters

Obama pledges action to speed U.S. transition to clean energy

As White House solar panels become operational, president unveils new measures to battle climate change

Solar panels on the White House roof became operational Friday as President Barack Obama unveiled hundreds of measures to expand the use of clean-energy sources in front of a crowd gathered at a Walmart department store in Mountain View, California — a location chosen for its commitments to renewable-energy efforts.

Obama told the crowd that the transition to “a clean-energy future” would create jobs and reduce U.S. dependence on foreign oil.

In a largely symbolic gesture to show his personal commitment to reducing the U.S.'s carbon footprint, Friday also saw the White House go live with reinstalled solar panels

Former president Jimmy Carter first installed the panels in 1979 amid the Arab oil embargo that caused a nation-wide energy crisis. At the time, he said they could either serve as an “example of a road not taken” or  “a small part of one of the greatest and most exciting adventures ever undertaken by the American people.”

One of the first acts undertaken by his successor, Ronald Reagan, was to remove the solar panels and recommit the nation to fossil fuels because, as his chief-of-staff explained, Reagan felt solar power was "just a joke."

“Solar panels on the White House are a really impressive message: solar is here, we are doing it, and we can do a lot more,” Ernest Moniz, secretary of energy, said in a video posted Friday on the White House website. “The clean energy revolution is not something for the distant future — it’s happening right now.”

Every four minutes, a small business or homeowner is going solar, Cyrus Wadia, of the White House Office of Science and Technology Policy, said in the video.

“In a sense, we’re going through a transition here … that we are just seeing the beginning of,” Wadia said.

During his address at Walmart on Friday, Obama announced over 300 measures to battle climate change. The president chose the store because of its efforts to switch to renewable energy.

"This Wal-Mart is different and that’s why I’m here,” Obama told the audience. He noted that a few years ago, the store decided to put solar panels on the roof and replace some traditional light bulbs with LEDs. Additionally it made refrigerator cases more efficient and put in a charging station for electric vehicles.”

Obama said Walmart’s upgrades created dozens of construction jobs and helped the store save money on its energy bills.

“More and more companies like Walmart are realizing that wasting less energy isn’t just good for the planet — it’s good for business; it’s good for the bottom line; and it means jobs,” the president said.

The measures unveiled on Friday would similarly create jobs and cut carbon pollution through the use of solar power and other renewable-energy sources, a White House statement said.

The president also announced “new executive actions that will lead to $2bn in energy efficiency investments in Federal buildings, smarter appliances that will cut carbon pollution by more than 380m metric tons — equivalent to taking 80 million cars off the road for one year — and will save businesses nearly $26bn on their energy bills.”

The White House said it would also support programs at community colleges across the U.S. that will train up to 50,000 people for clean-energy jobs by the end of the decade.

Obama’s trip to California followed the release of a White House report filled with dire warnings about the threats climate change poses to every American — from droughts to floods and sea level rise.

“Changing the way we use energy is just one of the ways Americans have been working so hard to move this country forward," Obama said Friday. "The transition to a clean energy future will create new jobs, reduce our dependence on foreign oil, and we will leave our children with a better America and a better future.”

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