On Earth Day, Obama to make pitch for renewable energy jobs (Des Moines Register)


President Barack Obama is expected today to tout his administration's effort to accelerate the creation of renewable-energy jobs in his first trip as president to Iowa, the nation's No. 2 wind energy producer.

Obama, speaking at a wind turbine tower plant housed in the former Maytag appliance factory in Newton, will urge Congress to move forward on legislation to spur that initiative.

The noon event at Trinity Structural Towers marks a turn toward energy and domestic economic policy for Obama, who has spent the last several weeks traveling overseas and focusing on diplomatic and global economic issues.

Heather Zichal, a top aide on Obama's energy team, said the president would urge Congress to pass a bill that commits $15 billion annually for 10 years to the renewable-energy industry.

"Go back to this plant in 10 years and, once we get this comprehensive energy and climate legislation through, they will see a dramatic rise in the number of employees," said Zichal, deputy assistant to the president in the Office of Energy and Climate Change Policy. "We're not suggesting we would completely fill this hole, but we're making dramatic improvements and steps in the Obama administration to get there."

The money that Obama is seeking in energy legislation would provide longer-term support for clean-energy jobs than the $500 million contained in the federal economic stimulus package, White House officials said.

The stimulus bill, which passed in February, included money to retrain idled workers for renewable-energy jobs, White House officials said.

Obama is scheduled to tour and visit with employees at Trinity, the Iowa operation for a Texas company that builds towers to support wind turbines.

It is an example of a company using a shuttered manufacturing plant, and some of its former employees, to produce components for the renewable-energy industry.

Trinity employs about 90 people in Newton, including about 30 former Maytag employees.

The company has firm plans to add at least 40 full-time jobs by September and conditional plans to add another 80 if wind energy production can support them, said Mark Stiles, Trinity's senior vice president.

Iowa trails only Texas in the amount of electricity it generates from wind.

The Newton jobs are just a small fraction of the 1,800 lost when the longtime appliance manufacturer's operation closed in 2007. But the money Obama is proposing to be spent over 10 years on renewable-energy research, production and transmission would help Trinity grow, Stiles said.

"For us to double the capacity here or add on, here or any other places, there has to be some new activity and there has got to be money available to develop the wind farms," said Stiles, who arrived in Iowa from Texas on Tuesday to attend today's event in Newton.

"And then past that, you've got to have the transmission lines put in," Stiles said. "And the president has tried to address that."

Hearings on a draft energy bill were held Tuesday in the House Energy and Commerce Committee. Iowa Rep. Bruce Braley, a Waterloo Democrat, is a member of the committee, which is expected to debate the bill in early May.

Obama enjoys healthy approval in Iowa, a state he carried by 9 percentage points in the November election.

The Des Moines Register's most recent Iowa Poll, taken three weeks ago, showed 64 percent of Iowans approved of the job the new president was doing, down from 68 percent in January.

The same poll showed nearly 70 percent of Iowans were skeptical about the stimulus spending, while about 30 percent said they had faith it would work.

Obama's Iowa visit, coinciding with Earth Day, is scheduled to last three hours - from Air Force One's scheduled landing in Des Moines to its takeoff at 2:15 p.m.

The visit is also expected to be more subdued than Obama's previous Earth Day appearance in Iowa. Neither Republicans nor Democrats were planning festivities to rally for or protest against the president's visit, party officials said.

In 2007, Obama, then a U.S. senator from Illinois running for president, headlined a campaign rally of 10,000 people on the University of Iowa campus in Iowa City. Today, he is expected to speak to an invitation-only audience consisting mainly of Trinity employees.

Zichal, the Obama energy adviser, who grew up in Elkader, said Iowa has a significance beyond politics for today's event.

"Everybody talks about that there's no silver bullet to solving the energy problem, but that we need to invest in a lot of different things - biofuels, renewables, energy efficiency," she said. "Iowa is sort of a little microcosm of activity and is laying the foundation for all the things we're going to need to do in the future."