President-elect Donald Trump’s energy policies — with a strong focus on domestically produced fossil fuels — could shift the national focus away from green-energy plans and policies that have flourished on Long Island, local green-energy advocates and officials say.
With Trump’s election, local experts see the prospect of a decade of advances in clean energy slowed, undone or reversed by a president who favors “clean” coal and proposes more U.S. natural gas and oil production to help rebuild the economy and reduce reliance on foreign energy sources. Green-energy advocates and state officials say they hope New York State’s aggressive moves in renewables will overshadow any new federal efforts.
Trump’s record on renewables isn’t encouraging for green-energy advocates. In 2006 he criticized the prospect of wind-energy turbines three miles from Jones Beach as an “an environmental disaster, both in terms of visual and noise” near his then-planned catering hall. He unsuccessfully sued the Scottish government to block a wind farm near his golf resort.
Given that history, “I don’t think the prospects for offshore wind look good at all,” said energy expert Matthew Cordaro, who is also a LIPA trustee.
Trump’s “America First” energy plan calls for “unleashing” the country’s $50 trillion in domestic shale, oil, and natural gas reserves, and “hundreds of years in clean coal reserves.” It would open onshore and offshore leasing on federal lands for energy exploration and production, and eliminate a moratorium on coal leasing and energy deposits.
His plan also calls for encouraging the use of natural gas and domestically produced fossil fuel in a way that will “reduce emissions but also reduce the price of energy and increase our economic output.” Among his infrastructure projects, Trump has championed a “modern and reliable electricity grid.”
Most troubling for green-energy advocates, Trump’s platform also calls for rescinding “all job-destroying Obama executive actions,” notably the Clean Power plan intended to phase out use of coal to fuel power plants. Trump “will reduce and eliminate all barriers to responsible energy production,” according to his platform. He has called climate change a hoax, favors nuclear energy “very strongly,” and would support “safe fracking” for natural gas. He reportedly has tapped climate change skeptic Myron Ebell to head a transition at the EPA.
“The shock is just beginning,” said Assemb. Steven Englebright (D-Setauket), chair of the Assembly committee on environmental conservation. “This is not a good thing for our country and our environment.”
Englebright said he worried not only about the survival of the EPA’s Clean Power plan, but whether the EPA itself would be dismantled by the new administration.
“It doesn’t appear that we have a president-elect who is going to be a champion” for green energy, he said. “Rather, he appears to be a champion of doubling down on hydrocarbons. That is suicidal.”
Calls and messages left with a Trump campaign spokeswoman weren’t returned.
John Rhodes, CEO of the New York State Energy Research and Development Authority, said the state’s energy policies under Gov. Andrew M. Cuomo were enacted and advanced even in a period of gridlock in Washington. Accordingly, he said he isn’t concerned now any new federal policy will impede that success.
“New York State energy policy is driven largely by the needs of New York State for the benefit of New Yorkers,” he said. “It’s centered around a recognition of our pressing energy challenges,” including the need for energy that’s “clean, affordable and resilient.” As for the state’s burgeoning offshore wind ambitions, Rhodes called it “premature to anticipate what the specifics” of Trump’s energy policies may be. “We’re proceeding on the basis that is going to be a resource that’s economical and important to harvest.”
Even those who worry about Trump’s policies say they don’t believe he’d move to end generous federal subsidies for solar and wind energy that were extended in 2015, and sunset over the next five years.
Neal Lewis, a former Long Island Power Authority trustee and currently green-energy advocate at the Sustainability Institute of Molloy College, said signals Trump has given to date leave little room for hope that advances made in the past decade will continue.
“We have a president-elect who calls climate change a hoax and has made fun of wind farms and has said we are going to reinvigorate the coal industry,” Lewis said. “So it is quite a sharp 180 degrees for everything to do with climate issues.”
More alarming, he said, is that the difficult work of the past decade could be undone quickly. “It takes so long to move the ball up the court on these issues and this is a pretty dramatic setback,” he said. “In terms of climate change and energy, this is a big deal.”
Trump’s promised focus on U.S. manufacturing jobs could invigorate American production of solar panels, added Scott Maskin, SUNation’s chief executive. But that could lead to more expensive panels and eliminate access to cheap solar panels imported from the Far East, one of the big drivers of the U.S. market.
“If he’s truly interested in bringing manufacturing back, it won’t lower the cost,” Maskin said. “It will only increase the costs.”