Illinois hangs over a ‘solar cliff’ — and developers gaze into the unknown

By Kari Lydersen | Energy News Network

The final incentives from the state’s 2017 Future Energy Jobs Act were awarded on Monday as solar developers plead for a legislative fix next month.

State incentives for small solar installations in Illinois have officially run out, leaving the state’s industry looking over the “solar cliff” that developers and advocates have long warned about.

Illinois has experienced a solar boom in recent years, driven by incentives in the 2017 Future Energy Jobs Act. The Illinois Power Agency reported this week that the last of those funds were allocated Monday.

The wildly popular community solar program created by the 2017 law was tapped out quickly, and incentives for larger solar projects dried up earlier this year. Funds for solar installations under 10 kilowatts in Ameren’s downstate Illinois territory were used up earlier this month, the Illinois Power Agency reported, and funds for such installations in ComEd’s territory that includes Chicago ran out on Monday.

Now solar developers are desperately hoping that state legislators during their January lame-duck session will pass a short-term fix to fund the adjustable block program that distributes solar renewable energy credits central to the state’s solar incentive programs.

At stake, many say, is the state’s ability to meet the ambitious renewable targets laid out in the Future Energy Jobs Act, and the future of solar companies and their employees, in an industry that has already seen 3,500 layoffs statewide this year.

Among those feeling anxious and abandoned is Dawn Heid, CEO of Rethink Electric in the Chicago area. She said incentives for small solar installations ran out more quickly than expected. The adjustable block program awarded the right to sell solar renewable energy credits in tiers, and an earlier tier still had credits available until recently. Then a glut of applications filled both tiers in a short time, meaning Rethink and other companies can no longer promise the incentives to their customers.

Rethink Electric grew from four employees when Heid joined in 2018 to 74 today. The company has solar projects lined up through April, then revenue could stop until legislation renews incentive funding.

“It was a roller coaster; we shot straight up, and we learned a lot along the way,” Heid said. “That’s what the incentives allowed us to do. We were able to purchase equipment and train people, which is a costly endeavor when you are starting in a new industry in an area where there’s not a labor force for it. Now we already incurred all the costs, we already trained all those people — but if we’re not able to retain all those trained employees then we are starting over. As a business owner, do you have the stomach to do this again?”

“Thousands of solar workers are about to lose their jobs,” said John Delurey, Midwest campaigns director at Vote Solar, in a statement. “Solar businesses will either downsize or disappear entirely. The hundreds of aspiring workers who graduated from training programs and bet their future on stable clean energy policy will have nowhere to go for employment. We need emergency relief for these workers and the stable funding that the Clean Energy Jobs Act provides.”

Read the entire article at Energy News Network.