LIVE BLOG/VIDEO/PHOTOS/CHAT: President Obama visits Arcadia

Protests and praise for Obama in Arcadia

Hear what people had to say outside ...

Obama announces $3.4B for green energy

Video courtesy WFTS

President Obama's speech in Arcadia

Video courtesy NBC-2

1:00 p.m.

President Barack Obama stopped in DeSoto County today with a promise to power up the green energy movement.

Florida power and light CEO Lewis Hay introduced Obama after a brief tour through one of the solar fields lined with panels, all tilted at 45 degrees to catch the sun's midday rays.

In his remarks, Obama was quick to praise Hay calling his leadership "visionary."

"It's an example of a company that is doing well by doing good," Obama said. "It's something we can do across the country."

During his remarks, Obama announced $3.4 billion in Smart Grid Investment Grant awards, which are part of the American Reinvestment and Recovery Act. The money is expected to be matched by industry funding for a total public-private investment worth over $8 billion.

One-hundred private companies, utilities, manufacturers, cities and other partners were awarded grants today. FPL will use its $200 million in funding to install 2.6 million smart meters and other technology that will cut energy costs for its customers.

12:40 p.m.

By around 12:45 p.m. after his remarks, President Obama’s motorcade had gone back through the streets of Arcadia past the protesters and supporters to head to his next stop.

As the motorcade drove by, about 300 supporters and protesters waved at him or waved their signs and banners.

Among supporters was Javier Luna, 58, of Arcadia.

Luna said the Hispanic community really likes Obama and hopes that he works honorably.

Not only does he want to see immigration reform, Luna, who has been unemployed for three months, said he wants to see an increase in employment in Arcadia.

12:25 p.m.

Among supporters gathered across town as the president spoke was the Campos family.

“I’m here supporting him because there are so many people who don’t support him,’’ said Nora Campos, 34, of Wauchula in Central Florida.

Campos was waiting to catch a glimpse of the president. With her was her daughter, 15, and niece, 17.

“I support him because I believe he can make a change, being that he was a minority,” Campos said.

Campos said having Obama as president gives the community a sense that everyone, no matter their race, has the same rank.

Arcadia resident Consuelo Pelham, 35, said she wanted to tell Obama that Arcadians really needed affordable housing instead of the solar plant.

Nearby, Jerson Salazar, 34, also waited with the crowd.

“I think it’s been a short period of time for people to start judging,’’ said Salazar, of Sebring in Central Florida. “I think Hispanics are coming out a little stronger now that we have a black president.”

11:59 a.m.

The president’s motorcade has arrived at the FPL site and he is on stage in Arcadia, preparing to make his remarks.

Read a summary of his remarks in the document at above left

11:45 a.m.

Jack and Mona Antaramian are among the Obama supporters who have been invited to the visit.

Mona Antaramian was carrying a folder with photos of her family at Obama’s Inauguration and a photo of Jack and Mona with Obama in Washington, D.C., in March. She said she hoped Obama would sign them after his speech.

“We’re very excited about this (solar) project,” she said, looking out over the solar field. “This is what he campaigned on. We wanted to come out here and support him.”

A sign at the entrance to the solar field reads “Welcome President Obama from the 15,000 employees of FPL and NEXTera Energy Resources.”

A DeSoto County sheriff’s helicopter is flying over the site as visitors take their seats in front of a podium. Behind the risers where the media stand, sheriff’s officers stand atop cars and watch the scene.

John Gnecco, director of project development for FPL, said the company recoups the cost of the solar field by adding 6.3 cents per month to FPL customers’ bills. That cost, he said, was approved by the Florida Public Service Commission and through the Florida Legislature.

Gnecco said he hopes the Legislature will invest more in this type of technology.

“It’s not a silver bullet. It is one piece of the expansion project,” he said. “You have solar power, you have nuclear power and you have to improve the fossil fuel you do have if you want to improve overall efficiency.

Obama is not a stranger to this type of technology.

Tom Werner, the chief executive officer of SunPower - which provided the cells, said Obama was also present at the dedication of the Nellis Air Force Base site in Las Vegas.

Werner said the Obamas also live under an older version of the solar panels at the White House.

11:35 a.m.

Around 11:30 a.m., President Obama’s motorcade drove past the gathering of protesters and supporters on U.S. Highway 17.

Protesters chanted loudly: “Obey the Constitution. Obey the Constitution.”

U.S. Highway 17 in Arcadia was reopened to traffic around 11:35 a.m. after the presidential motorcade of a dozen vehicles had passed through.

11:28 a.m.

Arcadia is preparing for the president’s arrival.

For JoAnne Devries and Joan McKniff, Obama’s stop in DeSoto County brought one of Obama’s campaign pledges full circle.

The two Sarasota women volunteered for the Obama campaign, spurred on by, among other things, his promise to stimulate the research and implementation of cleaner, more renewable energy.

“It’s exciting to see the policy carried out,” McKniff, 68, said. “Arcadia is a small place, and they really have a chance to be making history -- state and national.”

Both women expressed excitement about the prospect of expanding the solar initiative, both within DeSoto County and around the rest of the state.

“The solar is just fabulous,” said Devries, 60. “And I hope Florida continues to do it throughout the state. I think that the fact that Obama is coming to recognize it is wonderful.”

With that, the women both boarded a bus that drove through the solar fields on its way to a site set up for the president’s address. The rows of solar panels are lined up like some strange crop, stock-straight out of the sandy, rich soil accustomed to watermelon and citrus crop.

Along a road bordering the solar field, just beyond a line of trees, an orange grove mimics the orderly rows and perfect alignment of the solar panels.

McKniff comments on the co-existence of the solar field with the surrounding landscape.

“The birds are still chirping, there’s wildlife,” McKniff said. “It’s not an either/or situation. You can have both the farm land and the solar power.”

Carl Schwarz, site supervisor for the contractor that cleared and graded the land for Florida Power and Light, said his company assisted with serious mitigation efforts before clearing the land. They went through the 180 acres with environmental experts, flagging concerns and relocating protected species, such as gopher tortoises.

Schwarz pointed proudly to a poster: “That yellow poster is all species that live out here.”

11:21 a.m.

By shortly after 11 a.m., the crowd of protesters had more than doubled to nearly 100 people from across Florida.

Among the protesters were more than 30 Naples Tea Party members.

“This is not about being critical about solar power,” said Barry Willoughby, 65, of Naples.

He said the Naples Tea Party was protesting federal cap and trade legislation and health care initiatives.

He added that there are good applications for solar panels, however, the $100 million that it would cost Arcadia would only provide energy to 7,000 people. He said there are alternatives to solar power.

11:01 a.m.

President Obama left the Sarasota airport, where Air Force One landed, to head to Arcadia by helicopter.

Meanwhile, the White House sent out a press release about his visit that states in part:

“Speaking at Florida Power and Light’s (FPL) DeSoto Next Generation Solar Energy Center, President Barack Obama today announced the largest single energy grid modernization investment in U.S. history, funding a broad range of technologies that will spur the nation’s transition to a smarter, stronger, more efficient and reliable electric system. The end result will promote energy-saving choices for consumers, increase efficiency, and foster the growth of renewable energy sources like wind and solar.

“The $3.4 billion in Smart Grid Investment Grant awards are part of the American Reinvestment and Recovery Act, and will be matched by industry funding for a total public-private investment worth over $8 billion. Applicants state that the projects will create tens of thousands of jobs, and consumers in 49 states will benefit from these investments in a stronger, more reliable grid.”

Read full document at above left

10:21 a.m.

A few miles away from the solar plant, both supporters and protesters gathered at Cubitis Avenue Northeast and McKay Street.

“They act like the American people are stupid, but we are not,” said protester Gladys Green, 76, of Venice.

She held a sign that read: “Huge mistake. Hey, Obama. Don’t apologize for this proud America.”

Green said they are all against amnesty but that she does support legal immigration.

She said she was protesting the last nine months, when Obama has been in office.

“I would like to see him out of there,’’ she said.

Other signs that protesters held read: “No cap and trade” and “What about the tax deficit?”

A few feet away, supporters also gathered on the sidewalk just to get a glimpse of President Obama.

Among supporters was Doris Furlow, 56, of Bartow in Central Florida.

She said that even if she couldn’t meet him personally, she was glad to be in the same town as President Obama was on Tuesday morning.

9:39 a.m.

Workers from Florida Power and Light and Palm Harbor-based David Nelson Construction are awaiting the president along side the newly completed solar field.

Site Superintendent Carl Schwarz. who works for David Nelson Construction, has worked on the solar field for eight months, preparing the ground for the rows of panels now occupying 180 acres along U.S. Highway 17 in DeSoto County.

David Nelson Construction has worked as the subcontractor for FPL, grading the land to an exact level that Schwarz said cannot vary more than a tenth of an inch.

The company also has worked for FPL on another, smaller solar project in Merritt Island on Florida’s east coast and does general road construction work.

But the DeSoto County field is by far the largest project of its nature.

“I think it’s great. I think it’s good for the environment,’’ he said.

Schwarz and his fellow workers may make their livelihood from such solar projects, and they are some of the biggest champions of the technology.

Schwarz said he’s thrilled about the president’s visit, hoping to hear what the president discusses about the project today.

“Hopefully the next section, the next phase, that is what everyone is hoping for,’’ he said.

FPL owns 5,000 acres; the current project is using 180 acres of that.

9:16 a.m.

As reporters waited for Obama to arrive, they received information about the FPL solar field project.

Kathy Salvador, the manager of project development for the FPL initiative, said there are 180 acres with 90,504 panels that will provide enough energy for 3,000 homes.

It’s emission free, has no waste and uses no water to function, she said. The project was finished two months early and came in $22 million under budget, she said.

Today is the first day that energy collected from the panels will go into the grid to power homes, she told reporters.

These are the most efficient solar panels on the commercial market, she said, and were installed by a company called Sunpower.

It’s the largest solar field in the country, she said.

FPL has 5,000 acres and can expand the project significantly with the right state help, she said, adding that FPL would be keenly interested in expanding the project.

The panels are attached to poles anchored in the ground spanning open acreage and arranged in rows. The panels are computerized and move as the sun moves across the sky. Workers describe the sound of panels adjusting as similar to that of Rice Krispies cereal.

8:45 a.m.

At 8:45 a.m., DeSoto deputies said no residents or the public would be allowed on Northeast Karson Street to get a glimpse of the president. Officials expected protesters to gather near McKay Street off of U.S. 17 near the Arcadia Trading Post.

8:20 a.m.

Around 8 a.m, more than a dozen DeSoto County deputies and Arcadia police vehicles were already patrolling along U.S. 17 North in Arcadia.

"As far as Obama coming, it's going to put us on the map," Andy Novas, 28, owner of Mexi-Mart, said.

Novas said he hoped the solar plant would help boost Arcadia's economy with an increase of new businesses, investors and population.

Novas, a native of the Dominican Republic, said the Hispanic community in Arcadia felt Obama was a good representative of minorities in the White House, despite not having done much on immigration reform.

Several Arcadia residents shopping at Mexi-Mart said they knew about Obama's visit, but had no comment about it.

7:32 a.m.

Two hybrid electric Florida Power and Light Vehicles flank the entrance of the solar plant where President Barack Obama is expected to visit today. The bucket trucks, striped with vibrant green, hint toward the environmentally friendly venture Obama will be touring.

So far, early in the day, none of the conservative "Tea Party" protestors who have promised to show up have, but security has turned away members of the general public hoping to get a glimpse of the President and the plant on Karson Street in DeSoto County.

7:20 a.m.

President Barack Obama is in Arcadia today to visit Florida Power and Light's newest renewable energy venture.

Obama is coming for the DeSoto Next Generation Solar Energy Center's ribbon cutting and is expected to give a speech and take a tour of the facility.

The DeSoto Next Generation Solar Energy Center is the largest solar photovoltaic plant in the country, producing 42,000 megawatt-hours or enough power to serve about 3,000 homes annually. Photovoltaic technology is the process of using solar cells for energy by converting solar energy — sunlight, including ultra violet radiation — directly into electricity.

Construction on the facility began in late 2008 and was completed earlier this month. The plant consists of more than 90,500 solar panels and will go live this week, according to Buck Martinez, senior director of project development for FPL.

Check back with naplesnews.com for more on this story, including photos and streaming NBC-2 video, starting when he arrives later this morning.

7 a.m.

© 2009 marconews.com. All rights reserved. This material may not be published, broadcast, rewritten or redistributed.

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Comments » 2

silverback writes:

Just more pretty petty fluff. Maybe Readers Digest will decide to help our troops in Afghanistan and to scrap the subterfuge in the health plan. A flawed heath plan is worse than no health plan. How about Ladies Home Journal will decide to scrap the Tax & crap legislation.

Don't spend a dime of our money on the Copenhagen climate nonsense.

Be a president for the people or resign, we don't need any more leaches. The congress and senate are full of them.

GaiusCaesar writes:

Do Any Of You Really Want To Know Who Is behind This Besides Al Gore & Company? Look This Up:
http://www.philkerpen.com/?q=node/292
President Obama and Democratic control of Congress is pushing for yet another Rahnm (Sp) Emanual "Never let a good crisis pass" fame Cap & Trade Bill aka:Global Warming..now known as Climate Change Bill because of global 'cooling', as his own general continues to wait a decision and our troops continue to battle and die in Afganistan....60 Plus days and counting.The boldness and arrogance is mind boggling... Obama Has The Blacks He has the Hispanics, He has the Youth, He has the Unions, and the Acorns, He has the
Media, He has Hollywood, As mentioned, He has the Global Warming...now called Climate change group, (because the Earth is cooling), He has his socialistic spread the wealth comrades, who speak in golden words about Mao, Chavez He has his Czars/advisors many of which also hold socialistic ideologies...My God He even now has the Noble Peace Prize! He truly is God like....Yes We Can..."We will fundamentally Change America"...My God he is really doing it all in under a year!....Amazing what the people have voted into office with his only experiance was as a community organizer attorney for Acorn...and a lackluster Senator...Now the most powerful man in the world...and the leader of our America...or what remains of it. What a Guy!

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