3/3/17 – Guest Column: Illinois ready to lead on clean energy

By Jennifer Walling
Executive Director, Illinois Environmental Council
March 3rd, 2017

It is no secret that the change in administrations in Washington has brought a major shift in federal environmental policies. President Donald Trump has made clear his intention to roll back key initiatives enacted during the Obama Administration that tackled climate change and promoted clean energy.

Fortunately, in Illinois, we are seeing a much different approach to these issues from both our executive and legislative leaders, who recognize that action to promote clean energy represents a once-in-a-generation opportunity to boost our state’s economy.

In his recent State of the State address, Gov. Bruce Rauner lauded the Future Energy Jobs Act, newly-enacted legislation that will help catapult Illinois into a leadership position on clean energy development. It also puts Illinois at the vanguard of a movement that recognizes real action to protect our climate must shift to the state and local level.

As the governor told members of the General Assembly, by passing the bill in late 2016, “we protected families and job creators. … And at the same time, we were able to advance green energy.” The result, he said, will be “billions of dollars in private investment in wind and solar energy.”

The governor was correct to cite the new law — just as he was right to sign the legislation; and a vast majority of lawmakers, from both parties, were right to support it. Indeed, thanks to this law, Illinois is now preparing to implement the biggest advancement of clean energy in state history.

By dramatically boosting both renewable energy and energy efficiency, the state will become a national leader in this marketplace and capture the thousands of jobs and billions of dollars in investments that come with that status.

Solar and wind companies can now invest with confidence in Illinois because the state has fixed and enhanced its once-broken Renewable Portfolio Standard. At minimum, the bill will lead to 2700 MW of solar development and 1350 MW of wind development — enough to power almost 1 million homes.

In addition to promoting wind and solar energy investment, the new energy legislation will make Illinois one of the top states in the nation for energy efficiency. Illinois already enjoys some of the lowest electricity rates in the Midwest because of energy efficiency programs; this law builds on that. According to an analysis by the Citizens Utility Board, residential consumers will enjoy at least $4 billion in lower electric bills over the lifetime of the law, which includes measures to safeguard customers. More energy efficiency also means more jobs. Already, more than 85,000 people across the state are employed in this sector and the new law will expand those opportunities.

The act will bring diversity to the clean energy economy, removing barriers that have kept large segments of low-income and minority communities from receiving benefits produced by energy efficiency and clean energy development. The act creates the Illinois Solar for All program, a comprehensive solar deployment and job training program. The legislation also creates the state’s first Community Solar program to promote locally-funded solar projects.

According to the Environmental Defense Fund, the new law will mean $12 billion to $15 billion in additional private investment. This large investment will launch the state’s largest economic development initiative in recent memory.

Perhaps the most powerful signal Illinois is sending is this: Despite drastic changes underway at the federal level, policymakers at the state and local level can deliver meaningful results on climate and clean energy. The bipartisan support for Illinois’ new energy law demonstrates that, while this may be a time of deep political division, members of both parties can join together to build a healthier planet for our children.

The Future Energy Jobs Act moves our state forward — and Illinois’ leaders should be proud of their good work.

Read the piece at the State Register-Journal.

Jen Walling is the Executive Director of the Illinois Environmental Council, which lobbies for environmental protection on behalf of over 80 environmental organizations at the Illinois State Capitol.