Last week at the fourth annual National Clean Energy Summit, Senate Majority Leader Harry Reid said that President Obama was supposed to speak about clean energy jobs in his big jobs speech the following week. Well, fast forward a week, and Obama’s speech on Thursday night contained only the very briefest mentions of anything green-job related (close to the end he once mentioned fuel-efficient cars and advanced biofuels as examples of domestic manufacturing).
Was there a shift in rhetoric? I’m not sure, but one of the things Reid couldn’t have anticipated is that the day after he made his remarks about Obama’s speech at the summit, the solar company Solyndra — which was Obama and the Department of Energy’s flagship example of using federal support to boost clean energy manufacturing and create jobs — revealed it planned to file for bankruptcy and promptly laid off 1,100 workers.
Obama visited Solyndra’s factory the year before, and the U.S. government gave Solyndra a $527 million loan. But on the morning of Obama’s job’s speech on Thursday, FBI agents were searching Solyndra’s now close-to-empty headquarters.
Of course, one company’s struggles won’t likely kill off the administration’s support of the clean energy industry. But such a high-profile black eye could make the administration shy away from touting the industry publicly, at least for a while. At the same time, the Department of Energy is also facing budget cuts, and I wouldn’t be surprised if the loan guarantee program that led to the Solyndra support ended up getting cut.
To put this in context, Obama has highlighted clean energy jobs in many of his speeches before, like his State of the Union address in January of this year, in which he highlighted new clean energy goals. And his administration pumped billions into clean energy jobs via the previous stimulus package. I’ll be interested to see the details of the jobs bill, which Obama announced last night, and which will include tax cuts and spending for a total of $447 billion, designed to kickstart the economy.