Illinois needs to take action now on clean energy

It’s about jobs. With Illinois’ unemployment rate at 10 percent, we need to be focused on creating jobs. But we are destroying thousands of jobs by failing to fix our renewable energy policy. Illinois was a national leader in creating new solar jobs in 2018 and 2019. But in 2020, the state’s renewable energy program hit a funding cliff and we lost an estimated 3,500 solar jobs. Without action this year, we expect to lose thousands more jobs as businesses go bankrupt or move out of state. It’s been two years since legislation was introduced to fix this problem, and further delay is likely to drive businesses out of Illinois for good. 

Illinois has benefited from $5 billion worth of private investment in renewable energy projects since 2017. But that investment stopped when the Illinois Power Agency stopped approving new wind and solar projects. More than 1,000 solar projects sit on waiting lists as businesses struggle and people are now unemployed. With a legislative fix, these projects could move forward and we could immediately put people back to work. A leading economic researcher found that passing the Path to 100 Act would create more than 53,000 new jobs in Illinois and $8.7 billion in new economic output. 

This is about equity as well as jobs. As we support the growth of renewable energy, we will ensure that Illinois’ wind and solar workforce is as diverse as our state. House sponsors of the Path to 100 Act recently announced a diversity and equity plan that we created in partnership with the renewable energy industry. If we pass legislation to keep Illinois’ renewable energy industry alive, we will require clean-energy businesses to increase workforce diversity and supplier diversity and expand job training programs and renewable energy savings for low-income consumers. 

This plan has the support of the industry, and as long as that industry survives, we can create opportunities for communities that have been left out for too long. Our plan is just a small piece of the broader change we need, but it is an opportunity to create real, immediate progress.

This is also about climate change. Gov. J.B. Pritzker campaigned on a promise to put Illinois on a path to 100% clean and renewable energy. The people of Illinois overwhelmingly support expanding wind and solar power. But we have only 8% renewable energy today, despite state law that requires 25% by 2025, and we will fall further behind unless we pass targeted legislation to keep the renewable energy industry alive. And while we need to pass the Path to 100 Act as soon as possible in the upcoming Spring session, the state’s renewable energy program has already run out of money. Unless we act before the current General Assembly adjourns in January, thousands more people will lose their jobs. 

While we debate sweeping climate and energy proposals, we’re losing the renewable energy industry jobs we already have. The women and men of the wind and solar industry know that the fight against climate change is not theoretical. It puts food on their tables and pays their bills. We need to take the smart step now to protect wind and solar energy jobs, so we can move on to broader climate and energy reform. 

Sen. Bill Cunningham, D-Chicago, is presidents pro tempore of the Illinois Senate. Rep. Will Davis, D-East Hazel Crest, is Assistant Majority Leader of the Illinois House.

via Crain’s Chicago Business

December 21, 2020 at 05:32PM

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