4/21/16 – Michelle Knox: Illinois must act now to fix its clean energy policies

Posted: Apr. 19, 2016 at 10:05 PM

In 1970, more than 20 million people worldwide took part in the first Earth Day. Millions more will take part in Earth Day 2016.

As someone who delivers both wind and solar energy to customers in Central Illinois, I can attest to the need to fix Illinois’ energy policy — and quickly. I plan to be among those participating in a rally at the state Capitol in Springfield this week, during which we will deliver a strong message to Illinois leaders: by the time Earth Day 2017 arrives, it is critical that Illinois will have taken steps to reform our state’s out-of-date energy policies or we will lose clean energy jobs to other states.

Any day that goes by — let alone another year — without such a fix puts our state at risk of losing out on jobs and investments in this competitive field.

Fortunately, lawmakers have the chance to bolster our clean energy economy at the time we need it most. The Illinois Clean Jobs Bill (SB1485/ HB2607) would create more than 32,000 jobs and deliver more than $1.6 billion in savings to electricity consumers, while making vast improvements in public health. This bipartisan legislation would double the current standards for energy efficiency while increasing the targets for electricity generated by renewable energy sources, such as wind and solar, to 35 percent by 2030, up from the current target of 25 percent by 2025.

Additionally, the legislation would correct a major flaw in the state’s renewable portfolio standard. Industry experts agree that this policy is broken, resulting in ratepayer dollars being diverted away from their intended purpose. More than $117 million intended for renewable energy procurement cannot be spent. In 2015, lawmakers swept $98 million in renewable funds to plug holes in the state budget.

Several recent reports reinforce this conclusion:

  • This month, the Illinois Department of Commerce and Economic Opportunity found Illinois “falling far short of meeting” its energy policy targets, including the RPS. “This lag is not an abstract issue,” DCEO found. Indeed, among many employers, the lack of a dependable renewable procurement policy leads to the very real consequence of reduced payrolls.
  • In March, the Clean Energy Trust unveiled its survey showing that Illinois’ clean energy jobs grew last year by 9 percent, to more than 113,000 jobs — the most in the Midwest. However, their survey also showed that Illinois lost 152 solar and 431 wind jobs, a combined loss of 6.9 percent. Meanwhile, Michigan added nearly 700 solar jobs in 2015 and Ohio added more than 500 jobs. New York’s solar jobs grew by almost 1,000, maintaining a boom that the state has enjoyed since fixing its renewable portfolio standard.
  • Likewise, a report from the American Wind Energy Association concluded that Illinois’ wind energy growth has stalled in recent years, citing inaction in Springfield as the reason.
    Illinois’ budget impasse magnifies these problems. The Illinois Commerce Commission recently approved competitive solar procurements for renewable energy credits worth $30 million. However, these funds cannot be released while Illinois operates without a budget. Many energy efficiency firms face similar challenges of being unable to carry out tens of millions of dollars worth of upgrades, with another $76 million at risk if the stalemate continues.

For a state lagging the nation in employment, Illinois cannot afford these self-inflicted economic wounds that accelerate the outflow of jobs and investments.

We hope that lawmakers and Gov. Bruce Rauner heed the message that we will deliver this week and act now to fix our energy policy by passing the Illinois Clean Jobs Bill. If we find ourselves still urging such action when Earth Day 2017 rolls around, it may be too late.

— Michelle Knox is the founder/owner of WindSolarUSA, Inc. located in Owaneco. She has served on the Illinois Solar Energy Association’s Board of Directors since January 2013.