Town Hall talks renewable energy for Illinois

By Spencer Foust | The McDonough County Voice

“MACOMB – Thursday evening, October 17, the Illinois Institute for Rural Affairs held a clean energy town hall at Spoon River Outreach Center to inform the community on renewable energy legislation being drafted for Illinois, and the effects it would have on the regional economy and community health.

Presenters from the Illinois Institute for Rural Affairs, Prairie Rivers Network, and Citizens Utility Board provided an overview of the already-passed Future Energy Jobs Act, and the future opportunities available in the proposed Clean Energy Jobs Act.

FEJA was signed into law in 2016 by governor Bruce Rauner, and was implemented in June 2017. FEJA’s website said it plans to provide $180 million per year to fund renewable resources, with funds growing annually up to $220 million to construct wind power, large-scale solar power, and rooftop and community solar projects. Thursday night’s speakers said that FEJA currently generates $12-15 billion in new private investments in Illinois for renewable energy, like wind and solar.

In May 2019, construction began on a wind farm of 60 turbines in northern McDonough County after being announced in 2009. Coal-fired power plants in Havana and Canton, Illinois were acquired by Vistra Energy, only for their closure to be announced in August. The closures will leave 135 unemployed, and were announced on August 21, effective by the end of 2019.

A report from the Energy Information Administration from March 2019 charts the decline of coal’s usage for electric power generation, citing a dip from 50% in 2005 to below 30% in 2018. In its place, natural gas has become readily available due to increased fracking, making for low-cost baseload generation. Nuclear has remained a consistent 20% contributor to electric energy generation since 2005, while wind and solar have climbed from 0% to 10% since 2005. Hydro power has fluctuated, but ultimately remains at the same 8-10% it has contributed since 2005.

To expand upon that 10% contribution from solar and wind energy, FEJA plans to power one million homes by 2021 with solar and wind energy through rooftop projects and large-scale farms. By 2030, FEJA aims to produce 1,350 megawatts of new wind power, and 3,000 MW in new solar energy. With more efficient energy being integrated into the power grid, the act hopes to create jobs in the construction and maintenance of these projects, and to reduce the average electric bill.

To reach this 2030 goal, however, solar and wind technology will need to be improved in tandem with energy storage technology. Renewable electricity, which currently makes up 15% of the generated electricity in the nation, ultimately needs to store its excess energy in batteries in order to handle peak demand. At present, battery technology needs more research and development in order to make wind and solar a reliable energy source for winters with decreased sunlight, or breeze-less days where wind farms can’t meet the demand.

Around this time next year, a subscription-based solar project is expected to be underway for Ameren customers. Presenters explained that those who live in Ameren territory will be able to pay a monthly subscription to fund a community solar-power project, which Ameren will then deduct from that consumer’s energy bill.

The Clean Energy Jobs Act, according to the Citizens Utility Board, will further decrease the cost of electricity in the state of Illinois. CEJA’s four pillars are as follows: cut carbon pollution from the state power sector, move Illinois to 100% renewable energy, electrify the transportation sector, and ensure that the entire state enjoys the benefits of a clean energy economy.

Though recent closures under FEJA have left 135 members of nearby counties without jobs, CEJA has drafted requirements for companies to work with the congress commission and Illinois power agencies to provide at least two years advance notice for workers affected by power plant closures. Under CEJA, these employees would even be provided with healthcare, financial planning, retirement security, scholarships, and other benefits.

In addition to this added focus on ensuring the just transition of current coal and natural gas workers to renewable energy jobs, future closures would prioritize community health. Power plants with the largest population density would be shut down to help raise air quality and reduce the rising rates of health complications in these communities.

CEJA is one of many energy bills fighting for the attention of the Illinois General Assembly, which is preparing to enter its veto session October 28. Speakers at Thursday’s event said that while they support CEJA the most, the General Assembly has told bill authors that they’re aiming to pass one piece of energy legislation, and for the authors to come to a consensus before bringing legislation to the house.

Clean Energy Lobby Day will be in Springfield, Illinois on October 29. More information is available on the Illinois Environmental Council website.”

Read the entire article at The McDonough County Voice.