Fremont, Calif.--President Obama visited Solyndra's factory in Fremont to underscore his commitment to alternative energy and, hopefully, to putting people back to work.
"The spill in the Gulf only underscores the necessity of seeking alternative fuel sources," the president said. "We aren't going to transition off oil next year or ten years from now...Part of what is happening in the Gulf is that oil companies are drilling a mile under water before they hit ground and a mile underground before they hit oil."
In the half-hour speech, attended by California governor Arnold Schwarzenegger and Silicon Valley luminaries like Steve Jurvetson, Josh Becker, Solazyme's Harrison Dillon, and Oorja Protonics founder Sanjiv Malhotra, the president reiterated the theme that clean energy serves both the environment and the economy. He noted that he was giving his speech in a sprawling factory shell. A year ago, it was a bare plot of land. (Shown is an outside shot of the factory.)
The U.S. produces only five percent of the solar panels manufactured worldwide. In a few years, the goal is to raise that to 10 percent. Similarly,the U.S. currently only makes a fraction of the advanced batteries for electric cars. That total could rise to 30 to 40 percent under DOE-fostered programs and initiatives underway in various states.
Was Solyndra the best place to make these claims? The company, despite raising nearly a billion dollars from investors and government loans on top of that, makes tubular solar panels that sell for nearly twice as much as conventional flat silicon panels -- $3.24 per watt versus $1.50 to $1.75 for the crystalline silicon crowd. At those high prices, Solyndra isn't even thinking about making a profit. Still, green companies remain one of the few growth areas in California; it was recently announced that Tesla will reopen the NUMMI factory down the road with Toyota's help.
"We can't build an economy that depends on maxing out our credit cards, or home equity loans, or complex financial instruments that generate big bonuses but can potentially bring the economy down," Obama said. "We recognize we have go to back to basics. We have to go back to exports and making things."
"I'm not prepared to cede American leadership in the global economy," he added.
More on the tape. It's a little shaky between the 10 and 40 second mark but smooth sailing after that.