Guest Commentary | Renewable energy provides red, white, blue and green jobs for Illinoisans

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As a worker, consumer and advocate for Illinois’ renewable-energy industry, I am encouraging state and federal lawmakers to ensure the continued growth and success of wind and solar energy in Illinois.

I started New Prairie Construction with my partner in 1988. After growing our team steadily for nearly 30 years, New Prairie became East Central Illinois’ first worker-owned construction company in 2018. Our 20-person team is now part of the vast clean-energy industry in Illinois after we launched New Prairie Solar in 2015 to provide solar-panel installation to the area.

Prior to the COVID-19 crisis, clean-energy companies employed more than 125,000 Illinoisans, and clean-energy jobs were on the rise, according to a recently released report from Clean Jobs Midwest.

In practically every sector in the clean-energy economy — including renewable energy, energy efficiency, clean fuels and grid and storage — Illinois led the Midwest region in jobs in 2019.

Across the state, the industry added more than 2,100 new jobs, and clean-energy jobs grew more than five times as fast as overall statewide employment. At the end of 2019, more people in Illinois worked in clean energy than the combined workforce of real-estate agents and brokers, computer programmers, web developers and restaurant servers.

The repercussions of the coronavirus, and consequently the stay-at-home order, have certainly affected New Prairie, and we’re not alone. According to a recent analysis of U.S. Department of Labor unemployment data, in just the first months after the pandemic began, more than 17,000 workers in clean-energy-related companies in Illinois lost their jobs. For the health and safety of our workers and customers, New Prairie furloughed over a third of its workforce and drastically modified work protocols.

This trend looks to continue as funding for new renewable-energy projects will be exhausted after 2020, resulting in industrywide job loss through 2024 along with the stalling out of hundreds of planned renewable-energy installations.

With stable policy and adequate funding, there is an opportunity for the clean-energy industry to continue to strengthen Illinois’ economy and environment. One of the most recent examples of that is the Future Energy Jobs Act in Illinois. Signed into law in 2016, it put Illinois on track to acquire a quarter of its electricity from renewable energy by 2025 while also strengthening the state’s energy-efficiency standards. After it passed, Illinois experienced sustained job growth in the major clean-energy sectors of wind, solar and energy efficiency and added more clean-energy jobs than any Midwestern state in 2019.

Continued funding for renewable-energy programs would not only keep Illinois on track to meet its renewable-energy goal (25 percent by 2025), it would also provide new opportunities for job seekers in the clean-energy sector, as well as expand successful programs to encourage a diverse and equitable workforce.

In 2008, America invested $90 billion in clean energy. No part of the American Recovery and Reinvestment Act delivered more. In the years following, nearly 1 million jobs were created in the clean-energy industry. More than 100,000 wind, solar and other clean-energy projects were started, bringing new investments and job opportunities to states across the country.

New Prairie Construction is excited to be an Illinois-based business that offers area residents renewable-energy options through solar-array design and installation. This branch of our company is another part of our commitment to our community and environmental responsibility.

I’m hopeful that our legislators will provide the framework that is needed to support our renewable-energy economy by funding all levels of Solar Renewable Energy Credits and working with utilities to make attractive metering policies available to all Illinois consumers.

This will provide support and opportunities to Illinois businesses like New Prairie Construction. It will also create local jobs and help Illinois meet its renewable-energy goals.

Julie Vogel is co-owner and president of Urbana-based New Prairie Construction.

26-Delivered

via The News-Gazette

July 26, 2020 at 10:28AM

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