Hill AFB, Salt Lake City win praise from Obama

Published: Friday, April 3 2015 11:00 a.m. MDT

President Barack Obama talks with Col. Ronald Jolly, commander of the 75th Air Base Wing, prior to announcing a renewable energy plan Friday, April 3, 2015, in front of solar panels on Hill Air Force Base.

Scott G Winterton, Deseret News

HILL AIR FORCE BASE — Standing in front of an array of solar panels at Hill Air Force Base, President Barack Obama announced Friday the base will participate in a new program aimed at helping vets prepare for jobs in the solar energy industry.

Obama used his first visit to Utah as president to promote Solar Ready Vets, a program that's part of his administration's new goal of readying 75,000 Americans to work in solar-energy related jobs by 2020.

Following a private roundtable meeting on renewable energy and the economy held at the base and his brief speech Friday, the president left Utah in Air Force One about 11:30 a.m.

He spent a total of just over 15 hours in Utah, one of only two states he had not yet visited while in office. South Dakota is the lone state now that he has not traveled to as president.

"Hill is leading by example," Obama said, citing the amount of energy being produced on the base from the rows of giant solar panels gleaming in the bright midday sunlight behind him as well as other renewable sources.

It's time, the president said, for the country to invest in the future by training veterans and others in need of new employment to take their place in a clean-energy economy.

"That's how we're going to keep our economy growing and that's how we're going to create new jobs and create more opportunity for the American people," he told a group of dignitaries assembled for the speech.

Obama said HAFB will join four other military installations already participating in a pilot version of the new program, in Camp Pendleton in California, Fort Carson in Colorado and Naval Station Norfolk in Virginia.

The president said the effort to train military personnel transitioning to civilian life "for careers in this growing industry" will be put in place at a total of 10 bases nationwide.

He took time in what was about an eight-minute speech to recognize a fellow Democrat, Salt Lake City Mayor Ralph Becker, for "doing outstanding work" on the issue.

Salt Lake City's "commitment to renewable energy, its impact on jobs, its impact on business, and its impact on the environment and climate change" were all topics at the roundtable discussion, the president said.

Becker and Utah Republicans Sen. Orrin Hatch and Rep. Rob Bishop were part of the roundtable, along with other Utahns, including Harry Briesmaster, HAFB chief civil engineer.

Briesmaster said later that some 500 to 600 Hill personnel leave the military annually. He called the president's announcement "extremely important for us" and said the solar energy industry is an important job market for the future veterans.

The solar array used as a backdrop for Obama's speech produces less than one-tenth of 1 percent of Hill Air Force Base energy needs, but reduces annual power costs by some $750,000, he said, adding there are plans to expand the facility.

"You guys are getting a lot of stuff done," Obama told the roundtable participants during their meeting. "Part of the goal is not just to talk about the work we've done on renewable energy, but how we can train more and more folks to get involved."

Air Force veteran Michelle Fisher, who was deployed four times in the Middle East, also joined the discussion. Fisher is currently attending Salt Lake Community College's program to train as a solar panel installer.

Another roundtable participant, Judy Fisher, the solar program coordinator for SLCC's Green Academy/Energy Institute, told reporters earlier in a White House conference call that she helped establish the program at Camp Pendleton.

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