What happened to our generation’s “Sputnik moment”?

On Sept. 27, President Barak Obama returned to Denver, Colo., to deliver a speech about creating jobs in the stagnating economy. It’s his third big appearance in Denver. He was nominated as the Democratic candidate for presidency in Denver, and he signed the stimulus bill in Denver, shortly a month after taking action.

And on the 27th, under a sunny fall sky, he delivered a speech at Denver’s Abraham Lincoln High School urging Congress to pass his American Jobs Act, a bill designed both to bring down the deficit while increasing employment throughout the country.

“Everything in the American Jobs Act is the kind of proposal that's been supported by Democrats and Republicans before,” Obama said. “It's been two weeks since I sent it to Congress. And now I want it back. I want to sign this jobs bill so we can start putting people to work.”

During previous engagements he had stressed how clean energy, specifically solar, was creating jobs and putting people back to work. Today, however, he never mentioned any form of clean energy. His comments can be summed up in one key phrase, oft repeated throughout the speech: “Pass this bill.”

As recently as his past State of the Union Address, Obama compared the need for renewable and clean energy in the U.S. to the space race of the 1960s, calling it this generation’s “Sputnik moment”.

In that speech he referenced clean or renewable energy 11 times. “I'm asking Congress to eliminate the billions in taxpayer dollars we currently give to oil companies,” he said. “I don't know if—I don't know if you've noticed, but they're doing just fine on their own. So instead of subsidizing yesterday's energy, let's invest in tomorrow's.”

In the previous State of the Union Address, he made even more references—17 in total—to clean energy at all times tying it to more jobs.

The administration has invested more money into renewable energy through the now beleaguered DOE Loan Guarantee Program, which even now lumbers, battered by the recent and still unfolding scandal of Solyndra, toward its sunset at the end of September.

It’s also invested more into research, development of new technologies and cost reductions of solar through new technologies and reduced installed costs of solar through the Sunshot Initiative.

Doubtless, the Solyndra debacle, which could cost taxpayers as much as $535 million, as well as two other recent bankruptcy filings by photovoltaic companies are clouding what had been a renaissance for the industry. But that $535 million was in support of a new technology, and such investments inherently carry some risk but also have traditionally seen some help from government entities.

Compared to Enron’s $11 billion scandal during the George W. Bush administration, $535 million is peanuts. The difference is though the Bush Administration was in talks with Enron and other utilities, to weaken regulations, it made no direct investment in the company. And it occurred at a time of relative wealth for the country. By deregulating the company, the Bush Administration just helped it defraud Enron investors and former employees to the thunderous tune of $11 billion.

Still, it’s a surprise Obama made no mention of clean energy in his jobs speech today.

It’s one of the few bright spots of growth in the stagnant economy. One recent report shows that the solar industry has grown to employ more than 100,000 people as of this August. And it could employ tens of thousands more, with steady support from the administration and Congress.

Instead he focused on the types of people the act, if passed, will employ, which very well could include people working in the solar industry.

“The American Jobs Act will lead to new jobs for construction workers, jobs for teachers, jobs for veterans, jobs for young people and the unemployed. It will provide tax relief for every worker and small business in America. And it will not add to the deficit. It will be paid for,” he said.

While all of those jobs will impact the solar and the broader clean energy industry—veterans, unemployed and young people finding work in construction, construction workers building solar and wind farms, and teachers to train them—this speech, though effectively rallying supporters, did little to really explain in more detail where those jobs are most likely to be, and why continued support of renewables should be among jobs creating priorities.

Image courtesy of The White House.