Obama praises Hill’s progress in renewable energy

HILL AIR FORCE BASE — Using Hill Air Force Base’s large solar array farm as both a backdrop and an example, President Barack Obama unveiled a new plan April 3 that he says will create jobs and save energy.

The president spoke before a crowd of about 75 people, roughly the same size as the media horde gathered to cover the president’s speech, at the base’s photovoltaic array solar panel farm, which was commissioned in 2009 as Utah’s largest solar farm.

Obama’s speech, which lasted about seven minutes, centered around clean energy and the industry’s potential to create new jobs, specifically for military members. Obama said a new initiative, which directly addresses climate change, includes participation from Hill.

The president said that the Department of Energy has a plan to train 75,000 people to enter the solar workforce by 2020, a workforce that will include military veterans transitioning out of active-duty service as part of what is being called a “Solar Ready Vets Program.”

“We want to make sure that after (veterans) have fought for freedom, they have jobs to come home to,” Obama said. “(And) employers are starting to figure out, if you want to get the job done, hire a veteran.”

The SRVP, which will partner with the Department of Defense, will include programs at 10 military bases across the country, including at Hill, which Obama said has already taken a leadership role with the installation of the solar panel farm. According to a White House press release, Camp Pendleton in California, Fort Carson in Colorado, and Naval Station Norfolk in Virginia, all of which announced pilot initiatives earlier this year, will also serve as a models for the new solar program.

“Hill is leading by example,” Obama said. “It’s getting about 20 percent, or maybe a little higher, of its overall energy through renewable energy resources.”

Obama said the program will train service members on how to size and install solar panels, connect electricity to the grid, and interpret and comply with local building codes. The training will prepare transitioning veterans for careers in the solar industry as installers, sales representatives, system inspectors and other solar-related occupations.

The U.S. Department of Veterans Affairs is also indirectly participating, saying it will work to approve GI Bill funding for the SRVP initiative — a move the president says will enable more veterans across the country to use GI Bill benefits to participate in the program through local community colleges.

Obama also said the the Department of Labor will work with the DOD to inform service members who are months away from military separation of solar workforce opportunities. The DOL will also partner with state workforce agencies and American Job Centers to keep unemployed veterans in the loop.

“We’ve got to be relentless in our work to grow the economy,” the president said. “Everybody here at Hill understands that one of the most important aspects of national security is strong economic security. We can’t maintain the best military that the world has ever known unless we also have and economy that’s healthy.”

Buddy Briesmaster, director of 75th Air Base Wing Civil Engineer Group, said about 500 active-duty Airmen at Hill transition to civilian life each year.

Briesmaster, who participated in an April 2 roundtable discussion on renewable energy with the president, said the base’s solar array farm saves Hill approximately $670,000 a year in energy costs. Other sources of renewable energy used by the base include steam and methane gas, Briesmaster said.

In addition to lauding Hill, the president also praised Salt Lake City, saying the city is spearheading solar development in Utah, including a 1 megawatt solar farm and a state-of-the-art net-zero public safety building. The city just announced it will join the president’s “Better Building Challenge,” committing to improve the energy efficiency of 1.6 million square feet of public and private buildings across the city over the next decade.

The president arrived in Utah the evening of April 2, immediately after giving a similar speech in Kentucky. He left at about 11:30 a.m. April 3, departing in Air Force One from Hill’s flightline.