WIUM Tristates Public Radio

President Promotes Green Policies in Southeast Iowa

Fort Madison, IA – President Barack Obama chose the home of one of the largest employers in Southeast Iowa to speak about the need for a clean energy economy. Siemens produces giant wind turbine blades at its plant along Highway 61 near Fort Madison.

President Obama said Siemens and its 600+ employees are setting the standard for the future of clean energy.

"You're showing America our future," said the President, "and someday, our children and our children's children will look back at this factory, at this moment, and they will be proud of a generation that chose in a time of crisis to place its bet on the future."

President Obama spoke to a crowd of more than 300 Siemens employees and elected leaders. He says the idea of a clean energy economy is not a new idea, as it has been around for decades.

"We talked about how our dependency on fossil fuel threatened our economy," said the President, "but after all of the talk, a lot of times our will to act rose and fell depending on what the price of a gallon of gas was at the pump. During the summer, when the prices went up, everyone was all about clean energy and when the prices went down, everyone forgot about it."

President Obama said that while the United States was talking, other nations started acting and investing in a clean energy economy. He said that's why energy security is a top priority for his administration.

The President touted the stimulus bill as an example of that during his roughly 10 minute speech. He said the largest investment in clean energy in our nation's history was made last year.

"It's an investment expected to create or save 700,000 jobs around America by the end of 2012," said the President, "manufacturing next generation batteries for next generation vehicles; jobs upgrading to a smarter, stronger power grid; jobs doubling America's capacity to generate renewable energy from the sun and the wind. Just like you do here (in Fort Madison.)"

President Obama said he is confident that lawmakers in Washington, D.C. will follow up on that investment and pass comprehensive energy and climate legislation. He did not have to work hard, during his speech in Fort Madison, to convince the crowd that a clean energy economy is possible.

The President says developing rural economies and green technologies remain among his top priorities. Most of the Siemens employees and elected leaders in the crowd believed it, despite the President's already full legislative agenda.

"I think it's on the President's radar," says Thomas Petersen, a process engineer at Siemens. "I think he does think about green energy. But right now, his focus is kind of getting the economy back."

Petersen says the president can accomplish multiple goals by advancing green energy initiatives.

"I think this kind of dove tails very nicely with what the President is trying to do. You know, this green energy is an opportunity to increase jobs in the U.S. So, I think it's on his radar. I don't think it's on the top of his list, but this visit supports his vision to help the economy."

President Obama did not introduce any new programs or announce new legislation to further his clean energy agenda. But some in the audience believed that's what needs to happen. One such person is Fort Madison's plant manager, Robert Gjaraj.

"We would like to see clear policy signals from Washington," says Gjaraj. "With that, Siemens has the power, the innovation pipeline, to come up with whatever products are necessary to take care of our customers."

Gjaraj says the President's agenda has already helped his plant due to a nearly $3.5 million dollar clean energy tax credit it received, which it used to increase production. He says demand for the plant's products has been steadily increasing in the short time it's been open. The plant now employs twice the number of people it did when it opened.

Iowa Governor Chet Culver was one of the many elected leaders in attendance. Culver says more clean energy legislation is in the works, even though the President did not announce it.

"I spoke to the President about the importance of creating a national renewable electricity standard," says Culver. "That's pending in Washington. If we can get that passed this year, that could mean even more good paying jobs here at Siemens, and our other wind energy manufacturing facilities."

Culver says Iowa already produces roughly 20 percent of the nation's wind energy. But it must continue to prove its leadership to the nation as the President's initiatives move forward.

"We can help other states create more jobs, we can help our country get off its dependence on foreign oil," says Culver. "We can continue to lead, which has been my goal all along."

Culver says Iowa's leadership in green technology is a must if the country is to wean its dependence on foreign oil, and secure its energy future.