Obama visits Fremont solar panel factory; protesters gather 

President Barack Obama visited a solar panel manufacturing facility in Fremont today, calling the company and its workers "a testament to American ingenuity and dynamism."

Obama toured the headquarters of Solyndra this morning during a two-day visit to the Bay Area.

"I try to visit places like this about once a week," Obama said.

The president said he enjoys talking to workers who are "doing the extraordinary work of building up America."

Solyndra is the recipient of a $535 million loan guarantee from the U.S. Department of Energy to expand its solar panel manufacturing capacity.

He said the kickoff of construction on Solyndra's new factory last fall has resulted in the employment of more than 3,000 people. Its expanded production capacity is expected to add 1,000 new long-term jobs.

"California was hit as hard as any state by this whole mortgage crisis and the economic storms that followed," Obama said. "Even this high-tech corridor wasn't immune."

He noted the recent shutdown of the New United Motor Manufacturing Inc. plant in Fremont.

"The closure of the NUMMI plant was devastating to this community and thousands of jobs were lost ... but thanks to loans through the Department of Energy, which helped provide Tesla Motors with the financial wherewithal to expand, that plant is soon to reopen," Obama said.

Tesla Motors announced last week that it would partner with Toyota to produce electric cars at the NUMMI facility.

Meanwhile, more than 100 protesters gathered outside the Solyndra facility, including about 15 Greenpeace activists who held banners that read "Ban Arctic Drilling."

Greenpeace climate campaigner Gabe Wisniewski said he thinks Obama saw the protesters when his motorcade passed by.

Wisniewski said Greenpeace wants the Obama administration to call off plans to drill for oil in Alaska this sumer.

He pointed out the disastrous oil spill in the Gulf of Mexico and said Interior Secretary Ken Salazar is expected to decide by the end of the week whether to give final authorization for the Alaska plan.

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