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Illinois Must Act on Clean Energy in 2020

, Energy policy analyst | November 13, 2019, 3:42 pm EST
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Last week the Trump administration formally notified the United Nations that they will pull the US out of the Paris Climate Agreement. In order to avoid the worst impacts of climate change in the absence of federal action, it is more important than ever for states to act. Across the Midwest states are introducing 100% clean energy bills. But none are as comprehensive or progressive as Illinois’ Clean Energy Jobs Act (CEJA) (SB2131/HB3624).

With Illinois’ Veto Session ending tomorrow, we must act now to make sure CEJA is passed in 2020. Here’s why we can’t wait any longer to act and how CEJA moves us in the right direction.

The time to act is now

By withdrawing from the Paris Agreement, President Trump is ignoring the National Climate Assessment which made clear that climate change threatens the health, homes and livelihoods of millions of Americans. In the Midwest, projected changes in precipitation coupled with rising extreme temperatures will reduce Midwest agricultural productivity to 1980s levels.

Climate change is also expected to worsen existing health conditions and introduce new health threats by increasing the frequency and intensity of poor air quality days, extreme temperature events, and increased rainfall. By mid-century the Midwest is projected to experience worsened health conditions and economic impacts estimated in the billions of dollars due to these changes.

This summer extreme heat spread across the Midwest, and Chicago faced heat indexes of well above 110 degrees. That was a harbinger of things to come as extreme heat is expected to increase in the coming years. Historically, Chicago has experienced one day per year with a heat index above 105° F. With no action taken to curb carbon emissions the city is projected to experience 14 days per year by mid-century and 34 by late century. The increase in extreme heat is even more pronounced in southern Illinois. Carbondale has historically experienced three days per year with a heat index above 105° F, but with no action on climate change this will increase to 41 by mid-century and 69 days by late century. We must take aggressive action to mitigate the worst impacts.

What’s CEJA?

CEJA is as comprehensive climate bill that requires 100% carbon-free electricity by 2030 and 100% renewable energy by 2050. The bill was developed with input from residents across the state, and crafted by the Illinois Clean Jobs Coalition.

The bill builds on the success of the Future Energy Jobs Act (FEJA) that passed in 2016. It contains four major pillars: clean energy, jobs and economic opportunity, clean transportation, and decarbonization.

Clean energy

Illinois currently has a requirement of 25% renewable energy by 2025, but is not on track to meet that. The state is projected to only achieve 8%, unless we pass CEJA. CEJA allows for the procurement of new long-term contracts to encourage stable and steady renewable energy growth. It also ramps up Illinois’s target to 45% by 2030, and 100% by 2040. Which will build an estimated 40 million solar panels and 2,500 wind turbines across the state by 2030. CEJA also expands Illinois’s Solar for All Program, with the goal of quintupling annual installed capacity. It also creates the Energy Sovereignty Distributed Generation Incentive to increase the participation of low-income households in solar projects that are 100% low-income subscriber owned, including low-income households, nonprofits, and affordable housing.

CEJA also expands goals for energy efficiency for electric and gas utilities helping to achieve lower costs and consumer savings.

Jobs and economic opportunity

CEJA builds on the success of the Future Energy Jobs Act by creating Clean Jobs Workforce Hubs which will expand access to quality jobs and economic opportunities, particularly for economically disadvantaged and environmental justice communities. The bill includes provisions for community education, outreach, and job training. Recruitment for these jobs will be done in partnership with community groups and unions to prioritize recruiting people from marginalized communities and displaced fossil fuel workers.

The Contractor Incubator Program focuses on the development of underserved businesses in the clean energy sector and provides preferences for companies that implement equity actions to ensure equitable representation in Illinois’ clean energy workforce.

Clean transportation

CEJA also addressees 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 where car ownership is not an option through EV car sharing and carbon-free commuting through electric transport.

Additionally, the bill includes a new Beneficial Electrification initiative to incentivize electric vehicle charging, which focuses on medium and heavy-duty vehicles that produce large local health impacts.

Carbon free power-sector by 2030

CEJA supporters attend a rally at the Capitol during Veto Session Environmental Lobby Day on October 29, 2019.

As we ramp up to 100% renewable energy and coal plants continue to close in the state, we need a transition plan for workers and communities.  CEJA includes transition policies for workers and communities that direct millions of dollars annually to programs for tax base replacement, economic diversification, job training and career services.

CEJA directs the Illinois Environmental Protection Agency (IEPA) to begin a comprehensive stakeholder engagement process that will prioritize carbon reductions in impacted communities as well as reduce harmful pollution from power plants to achieve 100% carbon-free electricity by 2030.

The bill develops Clean Energy Empowerment Zones which will support communities and workers who are economically impacted by the decline and transition away from fossil-fuel generation. This will provide funding for initiatives that create new economic development and those that revitalize retired coal plant sites much like we describe in our Soot to Solar analysis from last year.

Momentum is building

Late last month, 500 Illinoisans from across the state went to Springfield for Environmental Lobby Day. There they met with legislators to urge them to pass CEJA, which now has over 30 sponsors in the Senate, and close to 60 in the House.

Governor Pritzker said the legislature would take up CEJA next session which starts in January 2020. He’s also indicated that it’s very important to him that Illinois live up to the Paris Climate Accords. We couldn’t agree more, and we’ll need the Governor’s strong support and engagement to pass the bill. Contact Governor Pritzker and your state legislators and ask them to pass CEJA in the 2020 session. The climate can’t wait!

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Edyta Sitko, UCS

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  • Karen Russ

    Jessica, could you please run this column in the Rockford Register Star? I don’t think many people in Rockford read the blog of the Union of Concerned Scientists, and this column would be a very timely addition to the editorial page of the Rockford newspaper. Contact Wally Haas at whaas@rrstar.com . Thanks.