Hundreds Rally in Chicago to Support the EPA's Clean Energy Incentive Program

August 4, 2016 | 3:44 pm
Jessica Collingsworth
Former Contributor

The Environmental Protection Agency (EPA) held the first and only hearing on the Clean Energy Incentive Program (CEIP) yesterday in Chicago. More than 300 people were in attendance, and nearly 140 people delivered oral testimony in support of both the Clean Power Plan and this innovative program to advance renewable energy and energy efficiency.

What is the CEIP?

The Clean Energy Incentive Program (CEIP) is a voluntary program that is designed to provide incentives to states for more rapid development and early investment in clean energy projects, particularly in low-income communities.

Community solar projects are becoming popular as a way to provide access to solar for everyone while being able to take advantage of the economies of scale for larger projects. (Source: Wikimedia)

Community solar projects are becoming popular as a way to provide access to solar for everyone while being able to take advantage of the economies of scale for larger projects. Photo: Wikimedia

The program is part of the Environmental Protection Agency’s Clean Power Plan, which is the nation’s first-ever requirement to limit carbon pollution from existing power plants. The CEIP requires states to opt in to the program in order to be eligible for incentives to develop solar, wind, geothermal, and hydro projects, as well as double incentives to develop energy efficiency or solar projects that serve low-income communities.

If a state opts in, the CEIP may allocate early action emission allowances or emission rate credits to eligible projects for the electricity saved or the renewable power produced in 2020 and 2021, ahead of the official CPP start date in 2022. The state will first award early action allowances or credits to the projects, then the EPA will provide matching awards up to a national limit equal to 300 million shorts tons of CO2 emissions.

Unfortunately in February, the Clean Power Plan was put on hold by the Supreme Court until the current legal challenges are resolved. Thankfully, this does not prevent states from moving forward with drafting state implementation plans or planning to participate in the CEIP.

What is the significance of the hearing?

On August 3, the EPA hosted a public hearing in Chicago to gather feedback on the CEIP. This is the only public hearing scheduled on the CEIP in the entire country, placing Illinois front and center on clean energy.

The EPA’s decision to come to Chicago, plus the exceedingly large turnout of testifiers and rally participants, underscores that our state and region have a vital stake in this issue, and that the Midwest broadly supports progress on clean energy. The Rally for Clean Energy was held at noon at Federal Plaza, and brought out hundreds of people from across the nation.

The EPA proposed design details for the CEIP on June 16, 2016. Once finalized the program’s rules will help guide states and tribes that chose to participate when the Clean Power Plan becomes effective. The hearing was an opportunity for citizens to comment on the changes made to the updated CEIP proposal.

My testimony

I gave testimony at the hearing on behalf of the Union of Concerned Scientists. I stated that in developing the CEIP, the EPA was right to recognize the need to address two fundamental issues underpinning the equitable and efficient implementation of the CPP.

Rally for Clean Energy at Federal Plaza outside the CEIP Federal Hearing in Chicago.

Rally for Clean Energy at Federal Plaza outside the CEIP Federal Hearing in Chicago.

The first issue is the need to enhance incentives for the near-term deployment of renewable resources and thereby cutting emissions and limiting a rush to natural gas.

The second issue is to ensure that low-income communities—who have historically borne a disproportionate burden of pollution from our dependence on fossil fuels and have suffered from chronic underinvestment in local clean energy and energy efficiency resources—are specifically prioritized for meaningful investments in energy efficiency and renewable resources.

To achieve this, some important revisions must be made before the CEIP is finalized. First and foremost, the CEIP should prioritize incentivizing clean energy projects that need the greatest support to come online and provide direct benefits to disadvantaged communities.

We recommend that the agency redistribute the matching award pools such that renewable energy and energy efficiency projects in low-income communities are eligible to receive a greater portion of the 300 million short tons set aside for the program.This adjustment in reserve allocations also reflects the fact that the recent extension of the Federal Production Tax and Investment Tax Credits for renewable energy will provide a significant boost to these projects in general, lessening the need for further incentives through the CEIP’s reserves that support renewable energy not located in low-income communities.

We also urged the EPA to adopt a framework for defining “low-income communities” that recognizes state-specific factors and definitions, while simultaneously maintaining a minimum threshold to ensure that benefits flow where they are needed most.

We can make the CEIP stronger and we urged the Environmental Protection Agency to ensure that benefits are delivered equitably and to respond to critical questions about community engagement.

What can you do?

The EPA will accept comments from stakeholders and the public on several key design elements of the CEIP, until September 2, 2016.

The CEIP program is an important opportunity to deliver real economic benefits to all communities across the nation, especially to communities where clean energy and energy-saving programs have not previously been made affordable or accessible. This will create jobs, save consumers money, and reduce air pollution. Importantly, the program has the potential to break down barriers that have blocked some communities—including those that have been impacted the most by pollution and climate change—from taking part in the clean energy economy. (Here’s the link to provide comments in support of the CEIP, Docket ID No. EPA-HQ-OAR-2016-0033.)

Constituents need to advocate for their states to participate in the CEIP. We urge states to opt in to the CEIP, to ensure the benefits of a clean energy economy are accessible and beneficial to all. States should also actively engage environmental justice groups to best design and implement the CEIP within their specific states.

We need to act now            

 As written, the CEIP is voluntary and benefits would go only to states that act ahead of key deadlines.

States need a clean energy infrastructure in place and ready to go the moment these benefits take effect. Several states, including several in the Midwest, have yet to convene stakeholders on the CPP. We must act now.