Thursday, March 22, 2012 | 2 a.m.
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President Barack Obama kicked off a four-state tour promoting his energy policies Wednesday in a solar field in Boulder City.
The president’s visit was short — he stayed in Nevada only three hours before boarding Air Force One to travel to his next stop in New Mexico — meaning there wasn’t time to grab a slice of pizza.
But the commander-in-chief’s visit still generated significant buzz in Southern Nevada, where local and state officials hope that renewable energy will play a part in revitalizing the economy.
Here are several scenes from the president’s visit Wednesday:
After touching down at McCarran International Airport shortly before 11:30 a.m., Obama was welcomed to Nevada by Clark County Commission Chairwoman Susan Brager.
Brager said Obama greeted her by name as she handed the president a Clark County pin as a souvenir.
“He has so much to attend to and so much to do. … For someone to be that detailed, it was great,” Brager said of the president’s personal greeting.
Although their exchange was brief, Brager said she encouraged Obama to continue working to improve education throughout the country and to provide more support for homeowners struggling with foreclosure and underwater mortgages.
“He was very cordial. He looks right at you,” Brager said of Obama. “He was very personable.”
No traffic tie-ups for the president
After greeting the small crowd at the airport, Obama quickly ducked into a black SUV, and the presidential motorcade made the 30-minute drive from McCarran to El Dorado Valley, home of Copper Mountain Solar 1.
The procession included several black SUVs, along with multiple vans for media and staff. A police escort that included cruisers and motorcycles cleared the way for the president, blocking traffic as the motorcade made its way down Russell Road, to Interstate 515 and on to U.S. 95.
Getting a glimpse of Obama
Wednesday’s events weren’t open to the public, and the motorcade’s route was not announced for security reasons.
But that didn’t stop locals from camping out spots along the road to cheer and wave as the presidential motorcade passed.
The trip to Boulder City drew significantly less fanfare, with about 40 people gathered in the parking lot of the Railroad Pass casino and scattered groups the rest of the way there.
One man was so enthused he took his shirt off and began waving it above his head as the motorcade passed by on U.S. 95.
The return trip in the early afternoon drew larger crowds, as people lined Russell Road waving American flags, taking pictures and cheering as the motorcade rolled past.
Touring Copper Mountain
Made up of about 1 million solar panels and covering more than 400 acres, Copper Mountain Solar 1 is a vast site in the middle of the desert.
Obama was driven to the middle of the field and received a brief tour from Sempra CEO Jeffrey Martin and Sempra executives John Sowers and Kevin Gillespie.
The president peppered the three with questions, asking about how much power the panels produce and how they are installed.
The president also asked whether the panels rotated to track the sun across the sky. They don’t, one of the Sempra executives explained, because the type of panel used provides similar efficiency whether it’s in a fixed array or rotates.
Dressing for the weather
The weather Wednesday was fitting for an outdoor tour of a solar field. With the sun shining brightly on a warm afternoon, Obama ditched his suit jacket and rolled up his sleeves for his tour and speech.
“How many days of sunshine do you get here in a year?” Obama asked one of the Sempra executives.
The answer was 320 days, to which the president responded: “Pretty good.”
In the audience
In addition to the media and White House staff, about 100 other people, including Sempra employees and local politicians, were on hand at the solar field for Obama’s speech.
Among the attendees was Mayor Roger Tobler, who was praised by Obama as “a big supporter of solar energy.”
Boulder City Council members Cam Walker, Duncan McCoy and Rodney Woodbury were also at the event with their families. Clark County Commissioners Chris Giunchigliani and Tom Collins and County Manager Don Burnette also were in attendance.
Interior Secretary Ken Salazar sat in the front row wearing a large cowboy hat. His presence was a positive for Boulder City, said Walker.
“The next solar facilities (in Boulder City) require Bureau of Land Management approval to cross corridors where there are power lines,” Walker said. “Having Secretary Salazar there shows the president’s commitment to being involved in the progress of our energy zone.”
Praise for Boulder City
“It’s great to be in Boulder City,” Obama said as he began his speech at the solar field.
The president briefly touched on the effects of the recession on Southern Nevada and the local housing market.
He praised the community’s resilience and promoted the potential that renewable energy projects have to revitalize local economies like Boulder City.
“You haven’t given up. You looked around at this flat, beautiful land and all this sun … and decided that Boulder City was the perfect place to generate solar power,” he said. “This is an extraordinary opportunity for the community.”
The speech, and the children
During his speech, Obama chided “some politicians” for not fully supporting renewable energy and said the country’s leaders have waited too long to solve its energy problems.
To help make his point, Obama used three local children sitting in the front row of the audience.
“When I was the age of these guys right here,” Obama said, pointing to Anna Walker and brothers Seth and Elias Woodbury, “when I was 10, 11 … and my grandparents were complaining about long gas lines, we were talking about how we were going to do things differently. Thirty, 40 years, and we keep on doing the same stuff. We keep on punting. We keep on putting it off.”
Anna’s father, Boulder City Councilman Cam Walker, said after the president’s remark, the family was swarmed by cameras.
“My daughter had a very big smile on her face,” said Walker, who attended with his wife and three children. “It was a great experience, one I hope my children will never forget.”
Thoughts on the Hoover Dam
Although the president didn’t make it out to the dam, he used it as an example of the importance of taking a long-term view when it comes to energy projects.
“Eight decades ago … the people of Boulder City were busy working on another energy project you may have heard of,” he said. “Like today, it was a little bit ahead of its time; it was a little bit bigger than this solar pant — it was a little louder, too. It was called the Hoover Dam … (and) even today, it stands as a testimony to American ingenuity, American imagination, the power of the American spirit.”