By Crystal Reed | Effingham Daily News
Advocates for a proposed state law that they say would set ambitious targets for renewable energy, generate $30 billion in new infrastructure, improve public health and create thousands of new “clean energy” jobs were in Effingham recently to tout its benefits.
Representatives of Faith In Place, which describes itself as an organization of “diverse people of all faiths sharing the commitment to care for the Earth,” talked about the proposed Clean Energy Jobs Act at the Suzette Brumleve Memorial Effingham Public Library.
The group is part of The Clean Jobs Coalition, which is made up of “environmental justice” groups, faith-based institutions, consumer watchdogs, public health entities, student activists, clean technology businesses, entrepreneurs and labor voices. The coalition works with community and civic leaders to advance clean energy jobs across Illinois.
“We are looking into getting more feedback on how we move forward in the state of Illinois,” said Christina Krost, the Southern Illinois Outreach Coordinator for Faith In Place.
Proponents of the proposed law want to see an expansion of the Future Energy Jobs Act, which became law in 2016. It generated $12 to $15 million in private investment in Illinois, focused on equity and justice, according to advocates.
The Future Energy Jobs Act helped create 1,300 renewable energy jobs in Illinois in 2018 alone, but more than 800 solar projects have been wait-listed because of funding shortfalls facing the state’s renewable energy program, according to a story by Capitol News Illinois.
Since then, the coalition has held more than 70 “listen, lead, share” events in places such as Effingham, Charleston, Champaign, Normal and Mattoon, according to Krost. The feedback helped them draft the proposed Clean Energy Jobs Act, which generated some discussion during the state’s legislative session in the spring, but failed to get anywhere.
Advocates say the proposed act has four policy pillars: Quality jobs and investment in communities across the state, 100% renewable energy by 2050, reducing the equivalent of 1 million gasoline- and diesel-powered vehicles on the road, and achieving a carbon-free power sector by 2030.
Quality jobs, investment
The act is supposed to create “clean jobs workforce-hubs,” a network of organizations that provide support for minority and disadvantaged communities.
Another element would create preferences for companies that try to ensure equitable representation in Illinois’ clean energy workforce. It also creates a contractor incubator program that focuses on the development of underserved businesses in the clean energy sector.
The group said that the path to 100% renewable energy by 2050 could require building more than 40 million solar panels and 2,500 wind turbines across Illinois by 2030, generating more than $30 billion in new infrastructure. This taps into the falling cost of wind and solar, lowering costs for consumers. It would expand the idea of “Solar for All” by giving people access to it.
It would also expand goals for energy efficiency, on the electric and gas side, to lower costs, organizers say. And it would direct utilities to evaluate lower-cost alternatives to infrastructure modernization.
“Agricultural practices would have to be adjusted to make this happen,” said the Rev. Cindy Shepherd, Central Illinois outreach director for Faith in Place.
A lot of the reduction could come through energy-efficiency measures, she said.
Reducing gas and diesel
Reducing the equivalent of 1 million gasoline- and diesel-powered vehicles on the road means making it possible for communities to develop local energy and climate plans that spur investment in energy, transportation, workforce and environmental projects, according to the group.
One benefit might be an initiative that encourages electric vehicle charging, focused on medium and heavy-duty vehicles. That could have health benefits for people in the area, according to the group.
Another goal is to find ways to make sure all Illinois residents have access to electric vehicle car-sharing and “last mile” electric shuttles to serve “transit deserts.”
“Transportation is the largest source of pollution,” Krost said. “We can’t just focus on our energy and not look at transportation.”
The act directs the Illinois Environmental Protection Agency to look at ways to prioritize carbon reductions in communities most affected by pollution, and reduce pollution from power plants to zero by 2030.
It also creates Clean Energy Empowerment Zones to help communities and workers harmed financially by the decline of fossil fuel generation. It also directs the agency to procure clean energy and other resources that contribute to customer savings and expand investment in renewables.
“In Illinois, there is close to $20 billion a year that we subsidize coal,” Shepherd said.
The group is continuing to advocate for the act during veto session, which is at the end of October into early November, according to Krost. Advocates plan to lobby on the act’s behalf in Springfield on Oct. 29.