Clean Energy Legislation in the Heartland Promises Jobs

Source: flickr/bobchin1941

Clean energy advocates tend to maintain a bi-coastal focus. No doubt my California and New York colleagues often see their states as the bellwethers when it comes to new policy initiatives. But, real innovation is taking place in Illinois, a state that national clean energy advocates tend only to fly over.

For the next couple of months, Illinois’ legislative session will be in full swing, giving lawmakers the chance to craft policies that redefine an electric utility, establish markets that reward clean energy, and set the foundation for the Environmental Protection Agency’s proposed Clean Power Plan, which will put in place the nation’s first-ever limits on carbon pollution from existing power plants.

The best opportunity to achieve these goals is through legislation called the Illinois Clean Jobs Bill. This legislation is backed by a broad coalition of groups that, in the past, have found themselves at odds, but are now pulling in the same direction.

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Not all policies are created equal

Three different policy proposals are currently vying for attention. In broad terms, the three broad policy outlines can be described as:

  1. The Exelon-only, nuclear-rescue bill;
  2. The preserve-ComEd’s-bottom-line legislation; and
  3. The Clean Jobs future-investment proposal.

Exelon, one of Illinois’ largest utilities, began the bidding by proposing subsidies for its uneconomic nuclear reactors. Its proposal, however, landed with a resounding thud, as lawmakers, policy experts, and others correctly saw this bill as a bailout for a profitable company. ComEd, an Exelon subsidiary, weighed in with several measures to ensure the utility can continue to profit even as the power system increasingly relies on energy efficiency and clean distributed generation, such as rooftop solar panels.

Meanwhile, the new Illinois Clean Jobs Coalition, of which Environmental Defense Fund (EDF) is a member, has made inroads by promoting a comprehensive bill that enhances renewable and conservation standards while envisioning a market-based framework for reducing carbon emissions.

Although Exelon and its ComEd subsidiary employ scores of high-priced lobbyists and make substantial political contributions, the Clean Jobs proposal has garnered more co-sponsors within the Illinois General Assembly. This is in large part the result of the coalition – composed of business executives, environmentalists, consumer advocates, and faith-based activists –focusing on both the environmental and economic benefits of the Clean Jobs Bill, principally creating a target of 32,000 jobs each year.

It’s all about job-creation

Employment, in fact, has become a key issue within the energy debates – and an area of real contrast. Exelon argues that most of the $300 million it wants to obtain from Illinois residents and businesses through this bill will preserve jobs that already exist at Exelon facilities. ComEd’s proposal promises 400 new full-time jobs. The Clean Jobs Coalition, in contrast, will create new jobs in innovative businesses that bring investment and opportunity to every part of the Land of Lincoln.

More than 100,000 Illinoisans already work in the clean energy industry, and that figure is growing nine to 10 percent annually. Even sharper job growth will result if lawmakers increase the share of power coming from renewable sources, like wind and solar, to 35 percent by 2030; reduce electricity waste through energy efficiency by 20 percent by 2025; and maintain the option of market-based strategies to reduce carbon pollution.

Between now and the legislative session’s end in early summer, Clean Jobs Coalition members, including EDF, will be encouraging lawmakers to not just make do with the old ways of generating electricity, but also to enable an innovative, diverse, and clean electricity system that costs less, delivers reliable power, and creates thousands of long-lasting, well-paying jobs.

Such progress would highlight Illinois’ leadership and might even encourage our bi-coastal, clean energy allies to do more than simply fly over the Heartland.

Photo source: Flickr/bobchin1941

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  1. Mark R. Shanahan
    Posted April 6, 2015 at 10:22 am | Permalink

    Thanks for this perspective, DIck. Ohio offers an example of both sides of the clean energy sword. It was a similarly broad coalition that enabled us to enact our clean energy standards. They included one of the strongest renewable energy requirements in the US in terms of required MWH and the strongest energy efficiency requirement. The entire argument in support was based on new clean energy jobs as well as protected existing jobs in the manufacturing sector. The announcement of the proposal was made by Governor Strickland with the Ohio Manufacturers Association on one shoulder and the AFL-CIO on the other, not a usual sight.
    The flip side: Five years later, Ohio also became the first state to freeze its clean energy standards and may well be on the path to repeal or reduce them.
    The lesson is that clean energy advocates must come together across a broad political spectrum to get the original legislation passed. But they must stay together and keep working to tell the story of job creation and economic development success that results. Elected officials have short memories and so too does the public. The clean energy message must be constantly reworked to speak to people where they are and focus on what they think is important.
    Finally, if these “fly over” states can implement and defend clean energy jobs, the country will be on a vibrant path to the future. If those same states fail, our coastal friends can remain smug but their accomplishments will be localized and limited.

    • Posted April 6, 2015 at 11:08 am | Permalink

      Well said. Environmental advocates clearly need to work consistently with our labor and business allies in order to ensure legislators and voters appreciate the employment/innovation/investment/public-health gains that come from efficiency and clean energy.

  2. Posted April 10, 2015 at 7:19 pm | Permalink

    Dick, why would you want to replace clean, renewable nuclear energy with energy which requires fossil fuel backup?

    As of 2012 Ohio, at similar levels of insolation, got .33 hundredths of one percent of its electricity from solar panels, and it’s shooting for a goal of one half of one percent by 2025. Is that going to offer any benefit whatsoever for the climate? Of course not, and, it’s not “all about job creation”, which should be of secondary importance for an organization with your name. You should be focusing on defending the environment – instead of appeasing your antinuclear base at the expense of it.

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