All Things Political: How government can help mitigate climate change

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During a blistering heat wave in the Pacific Northwest, the temperature recently hit 116 degrees in Portland, Ore. Summer temps there rarely go above 90 degrees. And if that weren’t bad enough, there’s currently a historic drought in California, making it so dry parts of the state are becoming unlivable. Further north, in Vancouver, Canada, tidal pool sea life has been literally boiling to death, killing sea stars and mussels. Scientists fear dying tidal pool sea life could have a domino effect on the food chain as other species have nothing to eat.

Closer to home, Tropical Storm Elsa just dumped four inches of rain on Long Island, and this is just the beginning of hurricane season. Climate change is a reality as the last six years have claimed the world’s highest temperatures on record. So, as I often ask, what can government do to help?

Schools
For starters, every one of Long Island’s public-school rooftops should be a mandatory site for solar panels. The incentives from the NYS Education Department make solar panels a cash-flow-positive capital project. Long Beach Public Schools are leading the way. They are generating over $100,000 a year in positive cash flow since saying yes to rooftop solar. And solar panels on public school rooftops provide an added benefit, serving as a daily reminder to students that solar is the way to go. On Long Island alone, I estimate there is more than a square mile of vacant public-school rooftops. Currently, this is an underutilized resource with both economic and environmental wins. Long Island Schools, why are you waiting?

Towns
On the town level, every landfill should be leased as vacant space for solar. In December 2018, while I was head of Economic Development for the Town of Hempstead under former Town Supervisor Laura Gillen, we tried to lease out the Oceanside Landfill for solar panels. Sadly, the Republican Town Board, refusing to work across the aisle, blocked it. What town residents don’t know is the Oceanside Solar Landfill Project would have generated 11 megawatts of solar energy, enough to take 2,000 homes off the grid. The more than $7 million in rental income over the life of the project made it a no-brainer.

Currently, the Town of Brookhaven leads the way in this endeavor. Their Republican town supervisor, Ed Romaine, has been fully committed to large-scale solar landfill projects since 2018, so clearly green energy isn’t a partisan issue. Kudos to him!

All Governments
All levels of government, including federal, should fast track Energy Performance Contracts to ensure all municipal buildings are energy efficient. EPCs upgrade lighting, windows, bathroom fixtures and boilers, and secure buildings from losing heat or air conditioning, all at no taxpayer cost. EPCs are commonplace because the energy savings from energy efficient upgrades can be bonded, with the savings from lower energy bills used to pay for them.

In 2019 I worked for the better part of a year on an EPC in partnership with Siemens while at the Town of Hempstead. It would have generated $6 million in positive cash flow over the life of the contract and paid for $4 million in upgrades at no cost to taxpayers. The Town Board, in its typical obstructionist mindset, voted against it.

On a positive note…
It’s clear electric cars are rapidly going mainstream, even in China. This will certainly help mitigate the burning of fossil fuels. As of April 2021, 34 states offered financial incentives to foster the creation of solar energy, and that’s on top of Federal Solar Investment Tax Credits. Even LIPA, according to Newsday, is projecting to go from 3 percent of electricity being generated by renewables in 2021 to 58 percent in 2030. Will these interventions be enough?

We are all in a race against time to stop the burning of fossil fuels that cause climate change. We need elected officials to make it a priority to go green ASAP. Literally, there isn’t a moment to lose.

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