Trump Can’t Stop This: Climate Action in the Northeast

States like New York, Pennsylvania, and Rhode Island are taking their (clean) energy future into their own hands.
Block Island wind farm off Rhode Island
Credit: Courtesy Deepwater Wind

The future of climate action may seem bleak under Trump, but one need only look in the Northeast and Mid-Atlantic to find a reason for optimism.

This is the first in a monthly series highlighting the clean energy achievements and climate action continuing across the United States—despite the Trump administration’s efforts to roll back federal climate policies. Each blog will focus on a different region of the country. What better place to start than the region where NRDC is headquartered?

This post, authored by Elisheva Mittelman, originally appeared as a guest post in Kevin Steinberger's blog.

As NRDC and others fight Trump and Congress in Washington, it’s more important than ever that state and city officials―as well as businesses and investors―continue the fight against climate change and the fight for our much-needed transition to a low-carbon energy system. From Maine to Maryland, the Northeast and Mid-Atlantic regions are proof that such efforts can boost the economy, cut customers’ energy bills, and slash power plant pollution.

New York and its neighboring states have long been leaders in clean energy policy, demonstrating their commitment to climate action through forward-thinking policies and ambitious goals at both the state and local levels. For example, the nine-state Regional Greenhouse Gas Initiative (RGGI) has cut power plant emissions by 37 percent since 2008 while achieving faster economic growth than the rest of the country.

Other programs, such as EmPOWER Maryland, along with rapidly expanding wind and solar capacity, illustrate the innovative ways in which this region serves as a champion of clean energy and carbon emissions reductions.

While we also need strong federal policies that bolster and rapidly expand this progress to meet our long-term climate goals, the Trump administration can’t stop America’s clean energy future.

Clean energy policies are expanding to meet ambitious climate goals.

One of the cornerstone energy policies in the region is RGGI, the bipartisan, market-based cap-and-invest program that brings together Connecticut, Delaware, Maine, Maryland, Massachusetts, New Hampshire, New York, Rhode Island, and Vermont, with the shared goal of reducing carbon dioxide (CO2) emissions from the power sector. RGGI works by limiting (capping) carbon emissions from power plants and requiring these plants to purchase allowances for every ton of carbon they release into our already overloaded atmosphere. The RGGI states then invest that allowance revenue in energy efficiency and other clean energy measures.

This initiative has been a success by all measures. As the chart below demonstrates, emissions have fallen by 37 percent since 2008, the year before the program went into effect. At the same time, RGGI has produced $5.7 billion in public health benefits, consumers have saved more than $618 million on their energy bills (with billions more in savings expected), and the region has seen $2.9 billion in added GDP and a gain of 30,000 job-years (a job-year equals one year of full-time work). In fact, RGGI states have seen stronger and faster economic growth than the rest of the nation, proving that capping carbon doesn’t mean capping prosperity. RGGI is currently undergoing a program review, in which the states are considering a variety of scenarios to achieve even more carbon reductions and associated benefits post-2020.

The nine Northeast and Mid-Atlantic states in RGGI have cut emissions by 37 percent since 2008, while achieving faster economic growth than the rest of the country.
Credit: Source: Acadia Center

Beyond RGGI, individual states and cities have also taken steps recently to better support renewable energy sources while advocating for increased carbon reductions and greater energy efficiency. For example, Maryland lawmakers just extended the state’s EmPOWER energy efficiency program, which provides incentives for investment in energy efficiency projects. The program has been recognized for its bipartisan support and significant achievements, reducing carbon emissions by 19 million metric tons while saving electricity customers more than $4 billion.

Meanwhile, New York continues to implement its Clean Energy Standard program to ensure that 50 percent of New York’s electricity comes from pollution-free, renewable sources by 2030. The state also recently finalized a new order that will support community, commercial, and industrial solar projects, and it has committed to adopting programs that will address other types of resources, such as stand-alone battery storage.

New York governor Andrew Cuomo has been outspoken about his commitment to a clean energy future, recently proposing that the state aim for 100 percent renewable energy and pledging to acquire 2.4 gigawatts of offshore wind by 2030, which could power more than 1.25 million homes.

New York is far from the only state with ambitious renewable energy goals. Rhode Island extended its Renewable Portfolio Standard (RPS) last year to 38.5 percent of electricity from renewable resources by 2035, and lawmakers in four other Northeast states have recently introduced legislation that would expand their RPS over the next few decades. Under the bills, Connecticut, Vermont, and Massachusetts would see proposed increases to 50 percent, 90 percent, and 100 percent, respectively, while legislators in New Jersey are considering an amendment that would help the state reach its 80 percent goal earlier than expected.

At the local level, New York City has been a tremendous leader on climate and clean energy policy over the past several years, particularly in the area of building energy efficiency. The city in 2009 adopted a groundbreaking suite of legislation, the Greener, Greater Buildings Plan. Together with other innovative frameworks to address financing and other barriers to increased energy efficiency, the plan serves as a critical model for other cities around the country. New York City has not stopped there, continuing to implement important initiatives to scale up building energy efficiency, including its NYC Retrofit Accelerator; expanding its successful New York City Carbon Challenge to numerous sectors; and initiating programs to spur local solar deployment to achieve the citywide goal of 1,000 megawatts (MW) of solar energy from photovoltaic (PV) solar panels by 2030.

Wind energy boom continues both on- and offshore.

Wind capacity is rapidly increasing throughout the Northeast, and the region is starting to take advantage of its tremendous untapped offshore wind potential. In the past few months alone, offshore wind projects have been proposed or built along the coasts of Maryland, Massachusetts, New York, and Rhode Island. The Block Island wind farm off Rhode Island is the first operating offshore wind farm in the nation and currently supplies about 30 MW of electricity (enough to power 17,000 homes). Off the shores of Long Island, Deepwater Wind is now officially moving forward with a 90 MW project that would generate electricity for 50,000 homes. Bidders have also proposed more than 2,000 MW in additional projects along the East Coast. As competition heats up, the region appears poised to see many more come online in the near future.

Wind power is also growing onshore. Wind farms can be found in every state in the Northeast, totaling more than 4,750 MW of installed capacity in the region, or enough to power almost 1.6 million New England homes for a year. New York and Pennsylvania are the current leaders of wind power in the Northeast.

Solar development keeps reaching record highs.

Solar energy is also continuing its record-breaking streak, with more than 14,000 MW installed nationwide in 2016―almost double the amount installed in 2015, which itself had been a record. The Northeast saw a significant boost in solar development, as four states in the region ranked in the top 20 for rooftop and other solar PV installation in 2016: Massachusetts (#8), New Jersey (#11), New York (#13), and Maryland (#15). Solar in New York has grown especially quickly: Under the NY-Sun program, it increased about 800 percent between 2011 and 2016.

Residential building with solar panels in New York City
Credit: Chris Kocek/iStock

The cost of generating electricity from solar has fallen by a remarkable 85 percent since 2009, and as prices continue to fall, major companies are taking notice. German solar technology company SMA recently announced plans to invest in the United States with a particular focus on expansion in the Northeast, and Amazon announced plans to install solar panels on its warehouse rooftops in several states, including Delaware, Maryland, and New Jersey.

The Northeast remains a steadfast proponent of clean energy and climate action.

The future of climate action may seem bleak under the Trump administration. However, one need only look to states in the Northeast and Mid-Atlantic to find a reason for optimism. Their strong commitment to clean energy and ambitious climate goals exemplify the great potential for progress that exists at the state and local levels―and it should be supported at the national level, as well. The policies implemented in the region have driven economic growth while cutting dangerous carbon pollution, and its clean energy momentum shows no sign of slowing down.

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