By Steve Holland
MOUNTAIN VIEW, California (Reuters) - President Barack Obama announced steps on Friday to increase the use of solar panels, boost energy efficiency in federal buildings and train more people to work in the renewable energy field.
"It's the right thing to do for the planet," Obama said, standing in the outdoor lighting display section of a WalMart store that features roof-top solar panels and a charging station for electric vehicles, among other energy-saving retrofits.
The president used the stop to show how major corporations have committed to increasing the generation of solar power at their facilities. Wal-Mart Stores Inc, Apple Inc, Yahoo Inc, Google Inc and Ikea were among the companies that have made such commitments.
Obama made the announcement at the end of a three-day California swing mostly devoted to raising hundreds of thousands of dollars for the Democratic Party.
The president and administration officials have spent much of this week highlighting their concern about climate change and the need to take steps to address the change. Friday's announcement fit into that policy agenda.
"The sooner we work together to adapt the economy to this reality of climate change, the more likely it is that we do right by our kids, and leave a more stable world," Obama said at what the chief executive officer of Walmart U.S., Bill Simon, said was the first visit by a sitting U.S. president to one of his stores.
Obama said an additional $2 billion would be devoted to energy efficiency upgrades to federal government buildings over the next three years.
Several financial institutions, including Citigroup Inc and Goldman Sachs Group Inc, were announcing new plans for "large scale investment and innovative programs" to develop solar and renewable energy installations, the White House said.
Obama's executive actions would support efforts at community colleges so that 50,000 workers would join the solar industry by 2020, it said.
"Investing in solar and efficiency makes sense to reduce our carbon emissions, but also for our pocketbooks and for our economy," Dan Utech, an energy adviser to Obama, said during a conference call on Thursday to preview Obama's announcement.
He said the U.S. solar energy industry had expanded dramatically under Obama's watch, with installations increasing to an amount enough to power more than 2 million homes.
An Obama spokesman also announced the completion of a project to install solar panels at the White House itself. The panels were American-made and part of an energy retrofit that would improve the building's energy efficiency.
"The project, which helps demonstrate that historic buildings can incorporate solar energy and energy efficiency upgrades, is estimated to pay for itself in energy savings over the next eight years," spokesman Matt Lehrich said.
Solar panels at the White House are not entirely new. Obama promised in 2010 to put solar panels on the White House roof. Former Democratic President Jimmy Carter had put up solar panels in 1979, during an oil crisis, but Ronald Reagan, his Republican successor, removed them during repairs.
(This version of the story corrects the day of the week in paragraph 10.)
(Additional reporting by Jeff Mason in Washington; Editing by Leslie Adler)