Illinois takes a national lead in promoting green energy — now it’s time to deliver

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It’s up to every level of government — and up to us — to get behind the new law and make sure it delivers on its promises.

Now the work begins.

Gov. J.B. Pritzker is expected to sign a ground-breaking clean energy bill on Wednesday that will put Illinois in the forefront of fighting climate change to save the planet. But as huge a step forward as this comprehensive law will be, it is only a start.

It will take sustained and aggressive efforts at all levels of government, in Illinois and everywhere, to ward off the worst effects of escalating climate change. Average people will need to step up, too, by conserving energy and reducing their dependence on fossil fuels. That can mean everything from buying energy efficient appliances to driving electric vehicles to installing solar panels on roofs. Under the new Illinois law, Chicago area residents will be eligible for $4,000 rebates on electric cars.

It also means voting for state officials who are pro-environment in future elections. If the Illinois Legislature’s history is a guide, the coalition that pushed what is being called the Climate and Equitable Jobs Act across the finish line will need to go on defense to protect the environmental gains in the law. The interests that fought against the law every inch of the way are not going away. Under the new law, a lot of the responsibility for achieving its ambitious goals is given to state agencies. Even slow-walking reforms under a hostile administration could largely undermine the legislation.

“It is going to take a lot of leadership for a lot of years to implement this the right way,” said Jack Darin, director of the Illinois Sierra Club.

That’s not to understate the incredible accomplishment of enacting such a sweeping clean energy law in a state that boosters once dubbed “the Saudi Arabia of coal.” The new Climate and Equitable Jobs Act shouts out that Illinois is now an epicenter for green energy companies to come and invest.

Moreover, there is not another model of a climate bill in the country that not only makes investments in communities suffering from disinvestment in coal, but also helps communities that have been disproportionately harmed by the effects of climate change. The new law will not only provide equitable jobs for residents of those communities as laborers but will also provide them with opportunities to be owners of new clean energy businesses.

Among other measures in the bipartisan bill:

  • It will move the state to all clean energy by 2050, the first Midwest state to do so.
  • It will close the downstate Prairie State coal-burning power plant, the seventh biggest source of pollution in the country, unless new technology can be found to operate the plant carbon-free. In the interim, the law will impose reduced emission standards on all fossil fuel-burning plants. The timeline is spelled out in the law, not just stated as goals, as in other states.
  • It rescues and more than doubles funding for the solar installation industry, which had been booming until subsidies from an earlier law ran out.
  • It invests in weatherization and other energy conservation measures.

Items that didn’t make it in the final bill include prohibiting utilities from using ratepayer money to make charitable donations to gain political support. We’d like to see a provision for ensuring that multifamily buildings are ready to provide electric vehicle charging stations in a future stand-alone bill. Also, although controversial formula rates are eliminated, Illinois needs to get away entirely from the idea of guaranteeing profits for utilities.

Illinois’ new law is getting national attention, and we hope it puts pressure on other states to enact climate-friendly laws. On Tuesday, U.S. Energy Secretary Jennifer Granholm said that by preserving zero-carbon nuclear reactors, adopting clean and renewable energy goals and incentivizing sales of electric vehicles, Illinois’ bill shows “just what bold state-level action can do to usher in the clean energy future.”

It’s unfortunate the Legislature stalled until the very day Exelon said it would start shutting nuclear plants if the bill — which provides subsidies to keep nuclear plants running as a bridge to expanded renewable energy — didn’t pass. Had lawmakers acted earlier, they could have kept ratepayers from shouldering of the cost of transitioning to clean energy. The Citizens Utility Board has estimated the cost at $3.51 a month for the average residential ratepayer, but other estimates range as high as $15. The rates are lower than they might have been: Exelon’s subsidy of $700 million over 10 years to keep keep nuclear plants going is far less than the $6 billion the utility sought.

Last week, an editorial in more than 200 medical journals warned that our rapidly warming climate is the “greatest threat” to public health globally. A Pew Research Center survey released Tuesday reported that nearly three-quarters of residents of countries with advanced economies worry climate change will someday create suffering in their lives.

Illinois has taken an important step to address those concerns. Now, everyone needs to do all they can to build on that to save the planet.

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September 14, 2021 at 06:51PM

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