11/24/15 – Companies Push Ill.’s GOP Governor to Support Clean Energy

Daniel Cusick, Energy Wire

November 24, 2015

A coalition of Illinois business leaders is pressing Gov. Bruce Rauner (R) to back a state bill that would ratchet up renewable energy and efficiency standards. The leaders say it would drive economic growth and put the state on a path to comply with the federal Clean Power Plan.

Executives for 149 firms signed an open letter in this week’s Crain’s Chicago Business asking Rauner to support both the Illinois Clean Jobs Bill (S.B. 1485/ H.B. 2607) and U.S. EPA’s Clean Power Plan requiring the state’s electric utilities to cut greenhouse gas emissions by 42 percent.

The state bill, which has garnered support from both Democrats and Republicans, would create energy efficiency programs to reduce electricity demand statewide by 20 percent within the next 10 years, while also boosting Illinois’ renewable portfolio standard from 25 percent by 2025 to 35 percent by 2030.

Some of the executives attended a press conference yesterday at the North Loop office of Coalition: Energy, a hub for energy entrepreneurs and startup firms that are working to advance alternative energy solutions in Illinois and nationally.

“This is a moment when Illinois needs to decide whether it will capture the investments and jobs of a booming industry or see them go elsewhere,” Lisa Albrecht, a renewable energy specialist with Solar Service Inc., said in a statement. She represents one of the largest solar design and installation firms in the state with roughly 2,000 systems installed.

Albrecht and other business leaders say that if Rauner signs the Illinois Clean Jobs Bill he will put the state on a path to meeting power-sector carbon emission limits required by the Clean Power Plan, while also stimulating the creation of more than 32,000 jobs.

“By attracting more renewables to Illinois, creating more wind capacity, we can increase jobs, increase investments, and continue to provide a lifeline to local communities and Illinois schools at a time they need it most,” said Chris Baxter, a Chicago-based origination manager at EDP Renewables North America, a major wind power developer in the state.

The state’s clean energy sector already employs an estimated 104,000 workers, according to data from the Illinois Clean Jobs Coalition. But officials warned that “many other states are passing Illinois by in the race for wind and solar projects and the massive investments and jobs that they bring.”

Rauner silent on climate policy

Calls to Rauner’s press office seeking a response to the letter were not returned. Rauner has not taken a position on the Clean Power Plan, and his views on the state energy bill also remain largely unknown, according to sources following the legislation. Many expect no action to be taken on any energy bill in the General Assembly before next year, after lawmakers pass a budget bill.

Rauner previously indicated that he would reserve judgment on the state bill until after the federal Clean Power Plan was finalized. That occurred last month with EPA’s publication of the final rule in the Federal Register (ClimateWire<http://www.eenews.net/climatewire/stories/1060026806>, Oct. 23).

While Rauner has remained silent, Illinois Attorney General Lisa Madigan (D) said earlier this month she will back the Clean Power Plan, calling it “an important next step toward cleaner, healthier and more affordable energy.” She said her office would file a motion to intervene on behalf of EPA in a court challenge brought by about two dozen other states opposing the program.

Illinois energy policies are further complicated by other interests, including nuclear power giant Exelon Corp., which has pursued its own legislative agenda to ensure its baseload nuclear plants are incorporated into any state compliance plan for the Clean Power Plan.

Exelon, which is also the parent of Illinois’ largest regulated utility, Commonwealth Edison, has argued that several of its large nuclear plants have been economically squeezed by the state’s shift toward wind power and other renewables, and that nuclear should have a level playing field to compete with other zero-carbon energy sources.

Other top policymakers, including Chicago Mayor Rahm Emanuel (D), have expressed support for the Clean Power Plan and the state energy bill. Among other things, Emanuel has argued that new federal and state clean energy policies would generate as much as $400 million in new investment annually in Chicago alone.

Backers of the state energy legislation also cite estimates from the Illinois Citizens Utility Board, which claims the bill would save Illinois ratepayers $1.6 billion by 2030. That translates to roughly $100 a year per household, on average.

Conservative groups argue the opposite, that a substantial increase in renewable energy use by the state’s utilities will drive up electricity rates for consumers and create economic pain for Illinois, the nation’s fourth-largest coal-producing state.