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Is Illinois America's Next Clean Energy Leader?
By J.C. Kibbey
The Clean Energy Jobs Act that was introduced Thursday would move Illinois to 100 percent renewable energy by 2050 and make the state a national leader in clean energy and climate action.
The bill (SB2132) would rapidly ramp up renewable energy in Illinois towards the 100 percent target by 2050, starting with a target of generating 45 percent of our electricity from renewable sources — and none from fossil fuels — by 2030. That rapid expansion of clean energy would place Illinois at the forefront of job growth, investments, customer savings and health benefits from renewable energy.
The bill would also grow the Illinois Solar for All Program by as much as 500 percent, expand cost-saving energy efficiency programs, and help us plan our electric grid in ways that avoid unnecessary costs and take advantage of increasingly cheap renewable energy.
Putting more renewables on the electric grid also makes it easier to clean up our transportation sector, which is now the largest source of carbon pollution in Illinois. Although electric vehicles already pollute less than gasoline-powered vehicles, as the electricity we use to charge those vehicles gets cleaner, we can reduce pollution even more. At the same time, electric vehicles paired with smart charging technologies can help our electric grid run more efficiently. The Clean Energy Jobs Act aims to take advantage of these opportunities while removing the equivalent of one million gasoline-powered vehicles off the road.
New incentives and infrastructure to support electric vehicles would help spur this process, including support for "light duty" electric vehicles like cars and trucks, which can save drivers money and create 70 percent less pollution than similar gas-powered vehicles. It would also include incentives to transition towards electric medium- and heavy-duty vehicles, which is critical in part because many of today's heavy-duty vehicles run on diesel and cause serious health problems for people in communities with heavy truck traffic. The bill also pairs electric vehicle incentives with smart charging programs to ensure that electric vehicles can charge at "off-peak" hours (such as late at night) when electricity is relatively cheap, plentiful and clean. Finally: in addition to expanding electric vehicles, Illinois should expand non-motorized transportation options like walking, biking and mass transit, which could be included in a capital bill.
Jobs and Equity
The transition to a clean energy economy promises benefits to our health (as we saw in 2016), our climate and our pocketbooks. It also creates jobs: Illinois is already home to nearly 120,000 clean energy jobs. Statewide, about one in every 50 workers is in the clean energy sector. In rural Illinois, clean energy already employs twice as many people as fossil fuels, and those jobs are growing at 5 percent a year even as the total number of jobs in rural areas has declined. The massive expansion of renewable energy envisioned in this bill would grow those impressive numbers even further.
But the benefits of our energy transition must be equitably distributed, and the jobs it creates must be good-paying and accessible. The transition must prioritize economic opportunity for people of color, people who live in environmental justice communities, and workers impacted by the transition away from fossil fuels.
The Clean Energy Jobs Act centers these priorities through Clean Energy Empowerment Zones, which allocate economic development resources to communities impacted by the transition away from fossil fuels, and the creation of Clean Jobs Workforce Hubs. These hubs are workforce development pipelines that begin with recruitment conducted in partnership with community groups, unions and others, and which prioritize recruiting people of color, people from marginalized communities, and displaced fossil fuel workers. They include training programs with stipends to help trainees meet living expenses, transportation, child care, and other needs while they develop their skills. Renewable energy developers will be incentivized to hire diverse workers, including graduates of these training programs.
What's Next for the Clean Energy Jobs Act
The Clean Energy Jobs Act was developed with the input of people all over Illinois, in nearly 70 public discussions across rural, urban and suburban communities, from Chicago to Carbondale, with participants of all ages and racial backgrounds.
With a newly-elected governor who supports 100 percent renewable energy, recent national polls showing that 85 percent of registered voters want to move their states entirely to renewable energy by 2050, and the ambitious Clean Energy Jobs Act gathering sponsors in the legislature, Illinois is poised to be a model for clean energy leadership — not just in the Midwest, but in the world.
Beyond the numbers and the policy details, that would mean cleaner air and water, more jobs, healthier people and a livable world for our kids.
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