Illinois must take immediate action on the Clean Energy Jobs Act

The Clean Energy Jobs Act is one of Illinois’ biggest opportunities to become a national clean energy leader, but with the fall veto session just four weeks away, its future could be in jeopardy if legislators don’t understand what’s at stake.

The economic, environmental and health benefits of CEJA are innumerable: workforce hubs for clean energy job training; tremendous investments in renewable energy (including in low-income and environmental justice communities); expanded energy efficiency programs; and transportation electrification — to name a few.

These benefits are reason enough to pass the bill now. But recent developments at the state and federal level have increased the urgency for action. In fact, if Illinois does not pass CEJA, the state will fall far short of our existing clean energy goals, Illinoisans will see their electricity bills go up, and a number of coal communities abandoned by a reckless, out-of-state power company could be left vulnerable to economic distress.

The Illinois Power Agency, charged with implementing the state’s Renewable Portfolio Standards goals, announced last month that it is facing a significant budget deficit in the immediate future. The Future Energy Jobs Act, passed in 2016, requires that 25% of the state’s energy must come from renewable sources by 2025. But the Director of the Illinois Power Agency projects that the budget shortfall means the state will fall far short of that goal — reaching only 10% by 2025. CEJA includes a number of provisions that would result in additional funding for renewable energy, helping to ensure the state meets this renewable energy goal by 2025.

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Although it sounds counter-intuitive, another reason to pass CEJA is that Vistra, the new owner of the majority of Illinois’ remaining coal-fired power plants, announced in August the closures of four plants. While emissions reductions are a key component of a clean energy future, Vistra chose to shutter some of its plants with the most modern pollution control equipment, while keeping open its dirtier, cheaper-to-run plants. Even worse, neither Vistra nor the state has plans for the communities and workers impacted by these closures. If CEJA is passed, these communities will be designated as Clean Energy Empowerment Zones, giving them access to a myriad of resources, like tax credits to promote newer, cleaner economic development and workforce development pipelines for displaced workers.

Finally, a decision expected sometime this fall by the Federal Energy Regulatory Commission could substantially increase electric bills for customers in Northern Illinois served by utility ComEd, with those increases likely going toward fossil-fuel power generators. The decision could impact states like Illinois, which have set clean energy goals and taken steps to incentivize clean energy development. One recent analysis found that the decision may cost Illinois customers $864 million per year. CEJA would not only reverse that impact, but would actually save customers money. Furthermore, it would give Illinois control to decide which types of resources best meet the needs of the state, and would mandate that carbon-free resources are given preference.

Climate change is, of course, another urgent threat to Illinois. This summer, the U.S. Department of Agriculture declared a disaster in Illinois. Approximately 75% of Illinois’s total land area is farms, but historic levels of flooding earlier in the year caused significant hardships for Illinois farmers. We know that climate change causes more intense and frequent flooding, and one way for Illinois to address this is to adopt more clean energy, which is carbon-free and thus helps combat further rising temperatures that cause more precipitation.

Illinoisans cannot afford any delay in passing CEJA. Failure to take steps now could result in increased electricity costs to customers, lost opportunities for communities to proactively respond to power plant closures, and failure to meet the state’s existing renewable energy targets. For a state whose governor has called for immediate action to combat climate change, it is urgent that Gov. Pritzker and lawmakers act on CEJA during the upcoming fall veto session.

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