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Natural Awakenings Chicago

Illinois Needs Clean Energy Now

Jul 26, 2016 07:22PM ● By Jessica Collingsworth

Photo courtesy of Flickr-tlindenbaum

Governor Bruce Rauner signed legislation on June 30 that will partially fund state government operations through December 31 after operating without a full budget for almost a year. This stopgap measure covers the basics of state government and ensures that schools stay open and funds colleges and social service programs, but only for six months. Although it may afford some short-term stability for the state, it does nothing to advance or fix existing clean energy policies in Illinois.

            The once-vibrant Illinois clean energy industry was left to idle, with millions of dollars that might have been invested in lighting, heating and air-conditioning upgrades at schools, libraries, fire stations and other municipal facilities suspended before the stopgap budget was passed. The far-reaching effects of the political impasse are clearly damaging to the state’s long-term goals.

            Illinois can get back on track by passing legislation that fixes and strengthens the state’s clean energy policy as laid out in the proposed Clean Jobs Bill, introduced in February 2015, that could serve as a powerful driver for expanding clean energy investments, curbing carbon emissions and keeping electricity bills affordable for consumers. With a fixed and strengthened renewable energy and energy efficiency standard, ours can be competitive with other states, create economic opportunities for Illinois businesses, provide savings to consumers and cost-effectively renew its commitment to clean energy.

            A recent five-year extension of the federal production and investment tax credits (PTC and ITC) for wind and solar energy resources provides an opportunity for states and utilities to invest in accelerating its renewable energy deployment, but they begin to decline in value in 2017 for wind and 2020 for solar before being phased out by 2022. Further delays in negotiating a comprehensive energy package could lead to Illinois missing out on the full benefits of these federal incentives. Residents need to act quickly to fix the state’s Renewable Portfolio Standard (RPS).

            A recent Union of Concerned Scientists analysis, Meeting the Clean Power Plan in Illinois, found that participation in a national carbon emissions trading program, along with implementing the Illinois Clean Jobs Bill, would yield nearly 6,000 megawatts of new wind and solar capacity in Illinois by 2030 and stimulate $6.3 billion in new capital investments that would save consumers more than $2.6 billion cumulatively. Continuing legislative inaction would leave those benefits unrealized.

            The Clean Jobs Bill enjoys bipartisan support and is backed by a broad coalition of clean energy businesses, program implementers, nonprofits and some labor unions, but due to the prolonged budget impasse and the introduction of other energy legislation into the bill, it remains gridlocked.

Jessica Collingsworth is the Midwest energy policy analyst for the nonprofit Union of Concerned Scientists. She focuses on state-level policies that curb global warming emissions through greater use of renewable energy and energy efficiency. Reach her at [email protected]