By Kari Lydersen
The dust is barely settling after the frenetic race to pass a sweeping energy bill in
Illinois, on the last day of the state legislature’s veto session December 1…
(T)he legislation was a surprising example of bipartisan cooperation between a Republican governor and a Democratic legislature which has failed to pass a state budget or much else. And despite their sometimes bitter differences during negotiations, most of the clean energy, environmental, consumer and community groups involved say it was an impressive example of collaboration that they hope will continue in the future….
An RPS fix, at long last…
An RPS fix was the cornerstone of the Clean Jobs Bill introduced by a coalition of clean energy developers and advocates, a competitor to separate bills introduced by Exelon and ComEd last spring. The Clean Jobs Bill would have increased the RPS target, to 35 percent clean energy by 2030, up from 25 percent in the existing standard.
After state legislators indicated they would only pass a bill supported by all the major interests, the three bills were rolled into one. The resulting Future Energy Jobs Bill passed December 1 included the RPS fix but kept the target at 25 percent by 2030, rather than increasing it.
Proponents say the RPS fix will mean about 1,300 MW of new wind power and up to 3,000 MW of new solar constructed in Illinois by 2030….
“The law requires the IPA for the first time to think about renewable energy in a long-term way,” said Brad Klein, senior attorney for the Environmental Law & Policy Center. “So the process going forward will have to maintain the strong coalition we’ve developed and engage with the Illinois Commerce Commission and IPA to hit those targets and develop programs that will allow people to benefit, to really achieve the goals of the statute.”…
If the bill has one big winner — other than Exelon — it is arguably the solar industry, which gained important provisions and defeated controversial proposals, proving its political power and forging important alliances in the process.
The RPS fix could exponentially increase the state’s installed solar capacity, from 55 MW to an additional 3,000 MW according to projections….
“This speaks very loudly and clearly that there is a definite momentum against mandatory demand charges across the country,” said Amy Heart, director of public policy for the solar developer SunRun.
“It also shows the popularity of solar – Republicans and Democrats on the House floor were speaking in favor of solar, in favor of the RPS fix, because they wanted to be able to support economic development and job growth. In Illinois, one of the most divisive states politically, everyone was able to come together and agree that rooftop solar plays a role in the energy future.”
Energy efficiency arguments…
In the bill that ultimately passed, ComEd’s energy reduction requirement is 21.5 percent and Ameren’s is 16 percent. And large industrial users are allowed to opt out of the program, meaning they do not need to help subsidize system-wide energy efficiency investments. Or they can “self-direct” investments, meaning they can essentially receive credit for investments in energy efficiency at their own facilities.
The bill also raises the cap from 2 percent to 4 percent, by 2030, of energy sales that can be invested in energy efficiency. And the new cap is calculated on a different baseline, which means the total amount is even larger, proportionally.
Magrisso said he was disappointed in the changes in the final draft but the bill is still a major win for energy efficiency and renewable energy. He wishes the rate cap had been removed altogether, so utilities could invest even more in efficiency programs, which include rebates and incentives for customers to install efficiency measures…
Environmental justice leadership
For the Little Village Environmental Justice Organization (LVEJO) and other environmental justice groups statewide, a major victory happened months before the passage of the bill. That’s because LVEJO was included among the select core group of negotiators hashing out the bill’s text behind closed doors.
Environmental justice leaders said this is the first time the EJ community has had such a formal, insider role in crafting state law. And they see it as a major improvement from the high-profile campaign to close Chicago’s two coal-fired power plants, when environmental justice and community leaders said they were excluded from negotiations between major environmental groups and elected officials.
LVEJO policy director Juliana Pino negotiated the bill on behalf of both LVEJO and other statewide environmental justice groups, conferring with them about demands and developments. The bill includes significant provisions for low-income and minority communities, including $25 million annually in low-income energy programs; a promise that distributed and community solar will be built in environmental justice communities; and that solar and energy efficiency-related jobs will also go to these community residents.
Though the low-income program was cut in half from $50 million to $25 million in the final stretch of negotiating, Pino said it is still a major victory.
The bill provides job training and incentives to employers meant to ensure that at least 2,000 jobs will be made available to alumni of the foster care system and to people with criminal records that make it hard for them to find work….
Numerous stakeholders said the environmental justice representation was key to the bill, and more generally the collaboration between diverse stakeholders was an end in itself.
“The backstory here is how the coalition came together and created real political power around low-income solar and community solar and rate design and other things we were able to achieve,” said Klein. “Hopefully this is the start of a really strong coalition that will implement these programs and get future wins on the clean energy front.”