Charles BabingtonLAS VEGAS -- President Barack Obama on Wednesday hailed solar energy as a cost saver for a major Air Force base, one stop on a Western trip devoted to raising political money and promoting his economic policies. Obama's aides had mocked reporters for making a fuss over his first 100 days in office, but the president was eager to assess the first 100 days of his $787 billion economic stimulus package. It has "saved or created nearly 150,000 jobs," he said, including "jobs building solar panels and wind turbines; making homes and buildings more energy-efficient." The White House job claims are difficult to verify because they are based on estimates of how bad the economy might have been without the stimulus rather than actual employment data. The country has lost 1.3 million jobs since February, a figure the Obama administration says would have been far higher if not for the recovery effort. Obama also announced more spending for renewable energy after touring a large field of solar panels at Nellis Air Force Base, near Las Vegas. The sun-powered cells provide a quarter of the base's power needs, Obama said, speaking in a large hangar warmed by the desert heat. "That's the equivalent of powering about 13,200 homes during the day," he said, and it will save the Air Force nearly $1 million a year. Obama said more than $467 million in stimulus money will be used "to expand and accelerate the development, deployment and use of geothermal and solar energy throughout the United States."
The president sandwiched the midday event between two political fundraisers: one on Tuesday night in Las Vegas for Senate Majority Leader Harry Reid, D-Nev., and one set for Wednesday night in Los Angeles for the Democratic National Committee. At Nellis, Obama addressed 400 people, including Air Force personnel, civilian workers and families living on the base. The base's $100 million public-private solar power system covers 140 acres and generates more than 14 megawatts of electricity. As he departed the hangar, Obama bypassed his limousine and walked a quarter-mile along the tarmac to examine fighter jets, chatting with Air Force personnel as he went. Associated Press writer Matt Apuzzo in Washington contributed to this report.