Clint Walker | Journal Gazette & Times-Courier
MATTOON — How can Coles County benefit from a clean energy economy that cuts energy costs and creates jobs? That was the discussion initiated when local residents, area leaders, experts, and elected officials gathered at Sarah Bush Lincoln Health Center in Mattoon for a Future Energy Community Conversation.
According to a press release, Coles Progressives worked with Prairie Rivers Network, Citizens Utility Board, and Faith in Place, all Illinois Clean Jobs Coalition (ICJC) partners, to organize the facilitated conversation about Illinois’ clean energy future. The ICJC successfully championed the 2016 Future Energy Jobs Act (FEJA), historic and bipartisan legislation that helps Illinois meet its goal to obtain 25 percent of its energy from renewable sources by 2025.
“Illinois’ Future Energy Jobs Act is proof that great things happen when we come together with the goal of achieving a clean, equitable energy future,” said Amanda Pankau, Energy Campaign coordinator with Prairie Rivers Network. “The Mattoon turnout shows that people in Coles County are eager to gain from the economic, environmental, and health benefits that come with clean energy.”
Event participants discussed topics of clean energy, carbon-free power, and electric vehicles, as well as their associated economic benefits and jobs. The cost-saving opportunities and environmental benefits that solar and energy efficiency upgrades offer customers were key topics of interest to the attendees, although they expressed concern for the need to ensure these benefits reach rural electric cooperative customers.
Attendees were also eager to explore creative ways to take advantage of the new opportunities created by FEJA, such as repurposing empty factories to provide permanent renewable energy manufacturing jobs for local workers and using land that can’t be farmed, like landfills, for community solar panel installations.
“We were very pleased to be joined by representatives from the City of Charleston, Coles County Board, Coles-Moultrie Electric Cooperative, and several candidates for office,” said Annalisa Switzer, co-chair of Coles Progressives. “We know our local governments at the city and county levels work hard to improve all our lives, so we’re hopeful that they will be proactive with education campaigns and renewable energy projects to ensure we get our share of the economic benefits sooner rather than later.”