Guest columnist Eliot Clay: Clean, affordable, reliable energy is best … – Daily Herald

As a critical energy hub in the heartland, Illinois must have a reliable grid to ensure Americans and Prairie State residents have access to power all year, regardless of weather conditions. Investing in additional and upgraded energy infrastructure will allow for a more modernized grid, ensuring reliable transmission for the Midwest and the rest of the country. As the state embraces clean energy sources to power the grid, it is essential to note the benefits of what renewables have to offer.

On the heels of enacting Illinois’ nation-leading clean energy and climate equity law, the Climate and Equitable Jobs Act (CEJA), our state is uniquely positioned to leverage our leadership for even greater progress. This is particularly so as federal climate dollars in the Inflation Reduction Act make their way to states. Renewable energy accounted for 12.1% of Illinois’ in-state energy generation, according to American Clean Power — almost triple the amount generated a decade earlier. As technology advances, more opportunities are available to enrich the state’s clean energy economy. Renewable energy projects in Illinois have attracted more than $14 billion in capital investments and generated more than $60 million in revenue for local governments.

To continue reaping the benefits of renewables, a reasonable pathway to updating transmission lines, modernizing the grid and expanding projects are essential next steps. According to ACP, Illinois is ranked sixth for operating wind, solar and energy storage capacity. As Illinois progresses in renewable energy and energy efficiency, the investment and subsequent growth in local communities will only get stronger. With 19.3 million acres of farmland in Illinois, the ability to capitalize on homegrown, renewable energy sources through agrivoltaics and similar means is paramount to boosting the state’s rural economy. While honing our natural resources to power our state, we must also recognize the need to modernize and expand transmission to transmit those energy sources across the state and export it to our neighboring states — just like we would for any other crop.

Only then will we be able to secure energy independence, improve reliability and realize our full potential. This means actively engaging with rural landowners and farm operators across the state is critical. The Grain Belt Express is a prime example of where we can embrace such collaboration and shared benefit. The Grain Belt Express is a transmission line that connects four states, including Illinois, across 800 miles that deliver domestic, affordable and reliable power to our communities. It is currently going through alternative routes in Illinois that will minimize impacts on land use and natural and cultural resources. Landowners are guaranteed 110% of market value for easements of their property, protecting them and their property values.

Investing in new and more reliable transmission infrastructure will generate jobs, which means more economic growth for communities. The proof is in the numbers — nearly 120,000 people work in Illinois’ clean power industry. Besides that, manufacturers support clean energy technology and build much of that technology in the state. Illinois needs to add renewables to the energy sector since American manufacturers consume one-third of all U.S. energy. The industry created new technologies that make energy more affordable and reliable.

Clean energy is a smart approach to economic prosperity for communities. Three of the most influential factors that affect property values include tax levels, school system quality and the strength of the local economy. Additional tax revenue from renewable energy projects supports

our schools, keeps taxes at bay and ultimately makes the community more attractive — all things that lead to increased property values.

The great state of Illinois and our leaders must continue to support and invest in renewable energy and our transmission infrastructure to supply more reliable sources across the grid. The future of Illinois, our economy and reliable transmission depend on it.

• Eliot Clay is the state programs director for the Illinois Environmental Council.

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January 31, 2023 at 10:59PM

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