Illinois Secures a Major Climate and Equity Victory

September 14, 2021 | 3:23 pm
A shot of some wind turbines at the Central Illinois Wind Farm, on a cold winter evening at sunset, with snow visible around the turbinesChauncey Davis/Flickr
Jessica Collingsworth
Former Contributor

Yesterday Illinois lawmakers passed historic legislation. The Climate and Equitable Jobs Act (CEJA), SB2408, is a significant win for our climate, as well as the health and economies of communities throughout the state. The bill combats climate change by sharply reducing carbon emissions in the electricity sector, creates an equitable clean energy future for all through workforce and contractor development programs targeted in equity focused communities, and establishes a just transition for fossil fuel plant communities and workers. Illinois is the first Midwest state to pass legislation to phase out fossil fuels in the power sector and require electricity providers to source at least 50% of their power from renewable energy.

CEJA is the product of over three years of grassroots organizing and advocacy by UCS staff and hundreds of other organizations, businesses, policy makers, and volunteers. Many of the tenets of the bill were developed by our collective Illinois Clean Jobs Coalition with input from residents from across the state through hundreds of community-based conversations known as Listen, Lead, Share (LLS) events.

Bold action on climate

CEJA’s passage comes not a moment too soon as the consequences of not acting on climate change are devastating. This summer, extreme heat once again spread across Illinois, putting vulnerable populations and outdoor workers at risk.

CEJA confronts the climate crisis by reducing carbon emissions by moving Illinois away from fossil fuels and towards a clean energy future. It puts Illinois on a path to achieve a 100% carbon-free power sector by 2045 and prioritizes environmental justice communities for pollution reductions. The closure of both coal and gas plants are included in CEJA, which is important because the share of in-state generation from gas-fired power plants has increased to about four times more than in 2008. Transitioning away from coal generation has saved thousands of lives—but pollution from gas is now responsible for more deaths and greater health costs in Illinois.

CEJA also aims to curb emissions in the transportation sector, which is now the largest source of carbon pollution in the state. The new act commits up to $80 million per year over the next ten years to electric transportation with 45% of benefits going to environmental justice and low-income communities. This includes rebates for electric vehicle (EV) charging infrastructure and rebates for EVs.

Clean energy

Currently only nine percent of Illinois’ electricity generation comes from renewables. CEJA addresses the “solar cliff“, which was the end to state incentives for small solar installations, and increases renewables funding to achieve 40 percent renewable energy by 2030 and 50 percent by 2040. It also expands funding for Illinois’s Solar for All Program from $10 million to $50 million a year, while adding multi-family projects to the program. 

For energy efficiency, the act extends electric energy efficiency goals past 2030 while expanding low-income weatherization. It also establishes an Equitable Energy Upgrade Program to permit customers to finance energy efficiency upgrades through their utility bills, a smart policy that has worked effectively in other states.

Equitable jobs

CEJA builds on the success of the 2016 Future Energy Jobs Act by creating the Clean Jobs Workforce Network Program. This program will create 13 workforce hubs across Illinois that expand access to quality jobs and economic opportunities, particularly for economically disadvantaged communities. It will also create the Clean Energy Contractor Incubator Program, which will establish incubators across the state to provide training, mentorship, and recruitment opportunities for small clean energy businesses and contractors.

Just transition for communities

This summer, power company NRG announced it will close the Waukegan Generating Station and the Will County Generating Station in June 2022. This past spring, Vistra announced plans to retire the Joppa Power Plant by September 2022, three years earlier than previously expected. While these are critical public health and climate victories, power plant closures can also place a heavy economic toll on surrounding communities. Illinois has experienced several coal plant closures in the past with little warning and no prior policies in place to support those communities and workers in their transition to a new clean energy economy.

CEJA changes this and establishes energy transition community grants for communities with closing or closed power plants or coal mines to address economic and social impacts of the energy transition, including replacement property taxes. It also creates a Displaced Energy Workers Bill of Rights to support fossil fuel power plant, coal mine, and nuclear plant workers who lose their jobs due to reduced operations or closures. Advanced notice of closure, financial advice, employment assistance, and career services are included.

Utility accountability and transparency

CEJA sets bold goals for utilities to make the electric grid more affordable, cleaner, and more equitable while ensuring that utility profitability is contingent upon achieving those goals. The act creates a Public Utility Ethics and Compliance Monitor and establishes new internal ethics controls for all electric and natural gas public utilities. Each utility is required to establish a position of Chief Ethics and Compliance Officer who must submit annual reports to the Illinois Commerce Commission.

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 by providing compensation to consumer interest entities to engage.

Thank you

After years of hard work by clean energy advocates and residents from across the state, Illinois is now poised to regain its leading role on climate and equity. CEJA is a truly transformational piece of legislation and can be a blueprint for other Midwest states looking to take action on climate and clean energy in a just and equitable way.

Thank you to everyone that worked tirelessly to get this bill across the finish line, including UCS supporters and members who contacted their legislators and participated in numerous actions. Thank you to Governor Pritzker and all the environmental legislators in the House and Senate who fought to ensure interim pollution reduction targets and a firm closure for fossil fuel plants did not get eliminated from CEJA.

There is still much work to do to address the climate crisis, but for now let’s celebrate this monumental win for Illinois, the Midwest region, and the nation.