Clean Energy Policy Is Heating Up in Illinois

April 23, 2021 | 11:41 am
Kenneth Keifer/Shutterstock
Jessica Collingsworth
Former Contributor

Energy legislation is heating up in Springfield. Several energy bills from a variety of stakeholders are on the docket, including: Climate Jobs Illinois, a coalition of labor unions; Vistra, which owns five coal plants in the state; and Ameren Illinois, an investor-owned utility, just to name a few.

 The Clean Energy Jobs Act (CEJA) HB 0804/ SB1718 is the only bill that mitigates climate change, expands renewable energy and energy efficiency, holds utilities accountable, and provides a plan for a just transition for coal plant communities in the state.

CEJA was developed by the Illinois Clean Jobs Coalition with input from residents from across the state garnered through over 100 community-based conversations known “Listen.Lead.Share” events.

CEJA acts on climate

CEJA will combat climate change by sharply reducing carbon emissions in the electricity sector and transitioning Illinois to 100 percent renewable energy. CEJA will increase Illinois’s current goal of 25 percent renewable energy by 2025 to 45 percent by 2030 and 100 percent by 2050. It also expands Illinois’s Solar for All Program.

On Earth Day, President Joe Biden committed to cutting U.S. greenhouse gas emissions in half by 2030 as part of the country’s new commitment to the Paris climate agreement. If we’re going to meet this goal as a country, Illinois needs to step up.

CEJA also addresses the transportation sector, which is now the largest source of carbon pollution in the state. The bill aims to remove the equivalent of one million gasoline-powered vehicles from the road. To this end, the bill creates the Electric Vehicle (EV) Access for All program, which will ensure EVs are accessible to all residents, including those for whom car ownership is not an option through EV car sharing and carbon-free commuting through electric transport.

 CEJA expands renewable energy and energy efficiency

We need to transition Illinois to clean and affordable renewable energy. CEJA fixes the renewable energy funding cliff by increasing the Renewable Portfolio Standard (RPS) budget and directing the Illinois Power Agency (IPA) to take immediate action to sustain renewable energy development. CEJA increases the specific funding for the Illinois Solar for All program budget from $10 million per year to $30 million per year to increase solar projects in lower-income and environmental justice communities.

With respect to energy efficiency, CEJA expands programs for lower-income communities to $53 millions per year. CEJA also expands gas efficiency programs, which will produce $700 million per year in consumer savings. These expanded gas efficiency programs will save customers nearly $4 for every dollar spent. Overall, expanded efficiency programs in CEJA prioritize those that need the savings the most, and expand the industry as the state’s economy recovers from COVID-19.

 CEJA holds utilities accountable

CEJA sets bold goals for utilities to make the electric grid more affordable, cleaner, and more equitable and ensures that utility profitability is contingent upon achieving those goals. CEJA creates an open, transparent process for making big decisions about our electric grid and empowers regulators to ensure ratepayer money is spent responsibly.

CEJA holds public utilities to the highest standards of ethical conduct by placing restrictions on lobbyists and institutes new reporting requirements on utility communications with public officials, as well as establishing new state oversight of utility ethics compliance. It also creates more opportunities for people to be involved in electric grid decision-making and provides resources for community groups to participate in system planning.

CEJA plans a just transition for coal communities

In Illinois, as in many other states, the economic competitiveness of our aging and inefficient coal-fired power plants is in decline. Earlier this month, Vistra announced plans to retire the Joppa Power Plant by September 1, 2022, three years earlier than previously expected. Illinois has experienced several coal plant closures with little warning, and the state has no policies to support those communities and workers in their transition to a new clean energy economy.

As we use fossil fuels less and less, we must develop a plan that helps impacted workers and communities adapt to the energy transition and forge resilient economic futures. CEJA puts workers and communities first by creating a Displaced Energy Workers Bill of Rights which to support fossil fuel power plant, coal mine, and nuclear plant workers who lose their jobs due to reduced operations or closures. The Bill of Rights also includes advanced notice of closure, financial advice, continued health care and retirement packages, and full tuition scholarships at Illinois state and community colleges and trade programs with up to $14 million in annual funding.

The bill also designates communities that lose a fossil fuel power or coal plant as Clean Energy Empowerment Zones. CEJA provides local governments in these zones with tax base replacement for up to five years to cover lost tax revenues due to the closure of a fossil fuel power plant or coal mine. Up to $100 million annually can be allocated to tax base replacement statewide. CEJA also provides investment incentives for clean energy companies to locate in Clean Energy Empowerment Zones.

 The time is now

We must pass clean energy legislation this spring that holds utilities accountable, creates thousands of clean energy jobs to benefit communities of color, and leads a statewide economic recovery. CEJA is the only bill that addresses the current crises in which we are in.

Join hundreds of environmentalists for Environmental Justice Lobby Day on Monday, April 26. People from across the state will be meeting with their legislators and urging them to pass climate and environmental justice legislation. Join us and tell your legislators that CEJA can’t wait!