It’s Time for Illinois to Step Up and Be a Clean Energy Leader

February 17, 2016 | 1:39 pm
Jessica Collingsworth
Former Contributor

This afternoon, Illinois Governor Bruce Rauner gave his second budget address as Governor. It was a good opportunity for him to address clean energy, an area where Illinois has fallen behind. Strong support for renewables and energy efficiency would put Illinois back where it belongs—among the nation’s clean energy leaders.

Mired in a budget morass

Illinois has been without a budget since July 1, which marked the beginning of the 2016 fiscal year. It’s been eight months with no budget, and many Illinoisans fear there is no resolution in sight. Considering the disruption of social services, imminent layoffs at public universities, and past due bills piling up for the State, the stakes are high.

PHOTO: shock264/ FLICKR

Windmills over a midwest corn field. Photo: shock264/Flickr

Last year, the governor’s budget address focused on the need for Illinois to become a booming economy again, and the desire to attract more businesses and people to move to Illinois. The development of a business sector friendly environment would serve Illinois citizens by creating a path to economic growth, empowerment, and increased employment opportunities.

There were similar themes in the Governor’s 2016 State of the State address on January 27, and yet, little has been accomplished in the last year to move the state forward.

Illinois clean jobs bill

One sensible way Governor Rauner could help pump much needed investment into the economy and curb pollution is by supporting the bipartisan Illinois Clean Jobs Bill. This legislation would fix and increase the renewable energy and energy efficiency policies in the state. Members of the Illinois Clean Jobs Coalition include over 160 businesses that seek to ensure continued growth and investment in clean energy.

The Union of Concerned Scientists released an analysis last spring, Achieving Illinois’s Clean Energy Potential, which found that fixing and strengthening Illinois’ RPS to achieve 35 percent of renewable energy by 2030, and a 20 percent reduction in energy demand by 2025, would drive $23 billion in clean energy investments in Illinois by 2030; reduce the typical residential consumer electricity bill by $10 per month in 2020, and $22 per month in in 2030; and inject more than $200 million annually into Illinois’s economy.

Illinois is falling behind

Governor Rauner believes that Illinois is falling behind other states when it comes to economic development. I agree, Illinois is falling behind, and studies show that the development of renewable energy resources supports local economies, creates jobs, and moves states toward a cleaner, more reliable energy future. In recent years, while other Midwest states like Iowa and Minnesota are investing heavily in renewable energy, renewable energy development in Illinois has stalled.

In his State of the State Address the Governor mentioned Massachusetts a few times, and how we could learn from them. I agree; according to the Solar Foundation, Massachusetts is the second largest solar employer in the U.S. and has earned the number one spot for five consecutive years on the American Council for an Energy-Efficient Economy State Energy Efficiency Scorecard.

The Solar Foundation recently released the 2015 State Solar Job Census. Illinois dropped from 12th to 14th nationwide in total solar jobs in 2015, losing more than 300 solar jobs. Meanwhile, Michigan added nearly 700 solar jobs, and Ohio added more than 500. Massachusetts had 15,095 total solar jobs in 2015 and 944 megawatts (MW) of cumulative installed capacity. Illinois on the other hand, with nearly double the total population and over six times the amount of square miles, was only able to produce 3,483 total solar jobs with 57 MW of cumulative installed capacity. Illinois’ broken Renewable Portfolio Standard (RPS) blocks the type of investment that the state needs to compete.

According to the American Wind Energy Association Iowa now ranks second in the nation for installed wind capacity (6,212 MW), and is rated first in the amount of in-state power generated by wind (29% as of 2014) which is equivalent to powering 1.5 million U.S. homes. Illinois is ranked fifth nationally with 3,842 MW of installed wind capacity, and with only 4.98% of in-state power being generated by wind.

Support clean energy in Illinois—act now

We need to reestablish Illinois as a Clean Energy Leader. With a fixed and strengthened renewable energy and energy efficiency standard, Illinois can be competitive with other states, create economic opportunities for Illinois businesses, provide savings to consumers, and cost-effectively renew its commitment to clean energy. I agree with Governor Rauner—to stay competitive we must act now.