What will Trump mean for green energy in RI?

The roof-mounted 50 kW solar PV array at Lincoln School in Providence. (Photo by NPTRE®)

NORTH KINGSTOWN, R.I. (WPRI) – A North Kingstown business owner is confident that Rhode Island’s renewable energy industry will continue to thrive, despite President-elect Trump’s pledge to focus on fossil fuels over the next four years.

Doug Sabetti’s business – Newport Solar – has expanded so much since it was founded in 2009 that he had to move from his home office in Newport to a much larger warehouse in North Kingstown.

Now located on Dry Bridge Road, Sabetti says he’s confident that success will continue, so much so, he may be looking to expand, again.

“With our state programs we’re positioned to have this industry keep growing,” said Sabetti.

After eight years of a very eco-focused Obama administration, solar power is just one of the renewable energy resources that’s seen a recent surge in popularity in Rhode Island.

“Economics drive the energy industry, not only nationally but globally,” Sabetti said. “Wind and solar are becoming the economic choices of utilities and that is outside of any federal policy.”

In December, the east coast’s first wind farm went online off the coast of Block Island.

According to Rhode Island’s office of Energy Resources, the clean and renewable energy sector created 907 jobs over 12 months. That’s well above projections, and a 40 percent increase over 2015.

Sabetti credits Rhode Island’s investment incentive programs and an option to sell energy to National Grid for boosting the solar industry. He believes that regional approach should protect the industry’s jobs even if the Trump administration has a different focus.

“The tax credit helps, but the tax credit is actually quite small when compared to fossil fuels and those tax credits for renewables are scheduled to phase out in the next few years,” Sabetti said. “So our industry keeps reducing our costs and we’re ready to stand on our own without any subsidies and we’ll do that.”

On Trump’s website, his energy plan includes taking advantage of untapped shale, oil, natural gas and clean coal reserves.

In the past, Trump vowed to create a half-million jobs a year by eliminating what he calls “barriers to responsible energy production.”

Energy giant Kinder Morgan attempted to build a natural gas pipeline project through Massachusetts, but shelved those plans last year.

Company spokesperson Richard Wheatley said the project was canceled because they were “unable to secure sufficient contractual commitments to make the project economic.”

But he said he’s optimistic projects like this – in the oil and gas sector – will see less red tape and receive more support from the Trump administration.

Sabetti doesn’t believe that renewable energy is coal’s biggest competitor.

“Cheap, fracked, natural gas is what’s putting the coal industry out of business,” Sabetti said. “If the new administration relaxes the regulations on fracking even more, that will just make natural gas that much cheaper and it will hurt the coal industry that much more.”

“Meanwhile, wind is becoming one of the least expensive sources of renewable electricity in the country and lots of utilities are looking to that,” he added.

Trump is still in the process of finalizing his cabinet. His pick to lead the Environmental Protection Agency, Scott Pruitt, is actually suing the EPA. His confirmation hearings started on Wednesday.