Obama Singes Critics at US Solar 'Epicenter'

(Image credit: Julie Jacobson/AP Photo)

BOULDER CITY, Nev. - President Obama today powered-up his pitch for more investment in renewable energy technology during a stop at the nation's largest solar plant, calling Republican opposition out of touch and out of date.

"Now you'd think, given this extraordinary sight, given the fact that this is creating jobs, generating power, helping to keep our environment clean, making us more competitive globally.  You'd think that everybody would be supportive of solar power," Obama said before a backdrop of thousands of solar panels soaking up the desert sun.

"And yet, if some politicians have their way, there won't be any more public investment in solar energy," he said.

"One member of Congress, who shall remain unnamed, called these jobs 'phony.' Called them 'phony jobs.' Think about that mindset, that attitude, that says because something is new it must not be real. You know if these guys were around when Columbus set sail, they'd be charter members of the flat earth society."

Obama was referring to Rep. John Fleming, R-La., who during a speech in the House chamber last year criticized the clean energy subsidies the administration favored, saying the benefits were not what they claimed?

"POTUS uses flat earth society line again. Witty, but no help for folks paying $4/gal thanks to his failed energy policy. #phonygreenjobs," Fleming retorted in a post to his Twitter account following Obama's speech.

The Energy Department has estimated that the Obama administration loans for renewable energy projects have created or saved at least 44,000 jobs since 2009, though some critics say the figures are much lower. The administration also say renewable energy sources have doubled over the same period.

Obama took a tour of the Copper Mountain facility, the largest field of photovoltaic solar panels in the country, located an hour south of the famous Las Vegas Strip.  Its 1 million panels generate enough electricity to power about 17,000 homes, officials said.

"It's the epicenter for solar energy development in the United States," Scott Crider, a spokesman for Sempra Generation, which operates the plant, told ABC News.  "There are more than 320 days of sunshine coupled with a lot of flat, available land."

The site was also a beneficiary of more than $40 million in federal tax credits for construction, which employed 350 workers at its peak.  The plant now has 10 permanent employees, Crider said.

"This is an industry on the rise," Obama heralded.

"It's a source of energy that's becoming cheaper. We all know it's cleaner. And more and more businesses are starting to take notice. They're starting to look around for more places like Boulder City to set up shop," he said.

U.S. solar industry officials say government incentives and tougher enforcement of international trade laws are essential to thriving businesses because of stiff competition abroad.

On Tuesday, the Commerce Department set new fees on solar panels made in China after concluding the government has providing subsidies to their domestic manufacturers in violation of international trade laws.

The solar panels at Copper Mountain were built by Arizona-based First Solar, Crider said.  That company has received more than $1.6 billion in federal loans from the current Energy Department and has been under fire from Republicans for its handling of the funds.

The Republican National Committee called Obama's Nevada visit little more than "energy spin."

"It's clear the president is on defense on energy thanks to higher gas prices, and no amount of campaigning is going to change that," said RNC spokeswoman Kirsten Kukowski.

"From having no energy policy to his false promises on production and Keystone, President Obama has a lot of work to do to convince voters he cares about their pain at the pump," she said. "Obama loves to say he doesn't have a silver bullet when it comes to gas prices, but the fact is doing nothing isn't an option."