Despite renewable energy advocates’ push to pass the Illinois Clean Jobs Bill this fall, state politics will likely stand in the way once again.
As Illinois enters its fourth month without a state budget, Rep. Elaine Nekritz (D-Northbrook), one of the sponsors of the Clean Jobs Bill, contends that her proposal, as well as proposals from Commonwealth Edison and Exelon, has taken a back seat in Springfield.
“None of the energy bills have moved forward since last spring, and frankly, with the budget situation the way it is right now, that’s where everyone’s focus is at this point,” she said.
However, Nekritz remains hopeful that by next spring, state legislators will be past the budget impasse and begin having serious discussions about the Clean Jobs Bill.
Illinois Sen. Don Harmon (D-Oak Park) and Nekritz introduced the legislation in February, with the intent to increase energy efficiency and use of renewable resources, reduce carbon pollution and create jobs. It is covered under H.B. 2607 and S.B. 1485, and currently, 60 state representatives and 26 state senators are signed on as co-sponsors.
The Clean Jobs Coalition, which includes more than 200 businesses and organizations in Illinois, and state leaders like Chicago Mayor Rahm Emanuel have also shown their support for the Clean Jobs Bill and continue to call on legislators to pass it in 2015.
“From a broad perspective, it will put in place a set of tools for the state of Illinois to cut air pollution and address the threat of climate change by shifting away from dependence on coal-fired power plants,” said Emily Rosenwasser, deputy press secretary for the Sierra Club, a member of the Clean Jobs Coalition.
Rosenwasser said that Illinois acted as a leader in clean energy for many years, but its efforts to increase renewable energy jobs and manufacturing stalled due to problems with the state’s Renewable Portfolio Standard.
She says the Clean Jobs Bill will fix the RPS and raise the use of renewable energy from the current goal of 25 percent by 2025 to 35 percent by 2030, helping Illinois to compete for capital and investments currently being acquired by surrounding states.
In terms of consumer benefits, Rosenwasser points to figures touted by the Illinois Citizens Utility Board, which says the bill will save utility customers at least $1 billion by 2030. She says this translates into a minimum savings of $8 to $9 a month for each customer.
Those claims, however, are disputed by various policy analysts.
Researchers at the Heartland Institute in Chicago and the Beacon Hill Institute at Suffolk University have stated that if the state adopts these proposals it will raise electricity rates for consumers and cause manufacturing-based jobs to leave the state.
Other advocates see opportunity for green energy start-ups.
Nick Magrisso, a policy advocate with the Midwest Program of the Natural Resources Defense Council, another member of the Clean Jobs Coalition, says that the Clean Jobs Bill signals to both small and large businesses that they can set up shop or expand their operations in Illinois.
From his perspective, that’s why a large number of state legislators have gotten behind the bill.
“When you’re talking about putting tens of thousands of people to work and helping to lower consumers’ monthly utility bills, that’s a pretty easy sell,” Magrisso said. “I think people generally far and wide understand that Illinois could really benefit to see the kinds of investments that people would make under the Clean Jobs Bill.”
Amy Heart, senior manager of public policy at Sunrun, a national rooftop company with 80,000 customers in 15 states, contends that her company is one that would consider moving into Illinois if legislators passed the Clean Jobs Bill.
“We would love to be in Illinois,” Heart said. “We need policies that are consistent and can help a market get going. That’s what we’re looking for, and that’s what the Clean Jobs Bill offers.”
“Part of that is fixing Illinois’ RPS,” she added. “For a company like Sunrun or larger companies that want to bring their own private investment to the state, that stable program becomes essential, so we know that solar will be valued and so we can set up partnerships with installers on the ground.”
Not all of Illinois’ legislators are proponents of the Clean Jobs Bill, including Sen. Kimberly Lightford (D-Maywood) and Rep. Robert Rita (D-Blue Island).
In March, they introduced S.B. 1879 and H.B. 3328, which covers ComEd’s proposal to strengthen the Smart Grid, construct microgrids and community solar projects, and expand energy efficiency programs.
Annette Martinez, a spokesperson for ComEd, said the company’s “Future Energy Plan” builds upon the foundation of the Smart Grid to help drive innovation and an affordable clean energy future, without increasing costs for customers.
“With its provisions for new energy efficiency, greater access to renewable energy sources, and the extension of financial assistance for customers struggling to pay their bills, the Future Energy Plan brings the benefits of a clean energy future to all customers,” Martinez said.
She adds that the proposal, paired with ComEd parent company Exelon’s energy bill, presents the best comprehensive energy policy for Illinois.
The Exelon energy bill, introduced in February by Sen. Mattie Hunter (D-Chicago) in S.B. 1585 and Rep. Lawrence M. Walsh, Jr. (D-Joliet) in H.B. 3293, establishes a Low Carbon Portfolio Standard that the company says would support Illinois’ nuclear energy facilities and protect jobs, consumers and a reliable electricity supply.
According to Exelon, the LCPS would require ComEd and Ameren to purchase low carbon energy credits to match 70 percent of the electricity used on the distribution system. Exelon says this means all low carbon energy sources, including wind, solar and nuclear, could compete on equal footing.
Paul Elsberg, a spokesperson for Exelon, contends that the company believes the Clean Jobs Bill presents some good ideas, but ignores the most important energy issue facing Illinois – the continued operation of its nuclear plants, which make the state the nation’s zero-emission energy leader.
“Because nuclear power provides more than 90 percent of the state’s carbon-free energy, it has a critical role to play in achieving carbon emission reductions,” Elsberg said. “Without these plants, it will be far more difficult and expensive for Illinois to meet the carbon reduction goals outlined in EPA’s Clean Power Plan.”
The Obama administration announced the Environmental Protection Agency’s final Clean Power Plan in August. The plan requires a decrease in U.S. carbon dioxide emissions by 32 percent below 2005 levels by 2030.
The Clean Power Plan also establishes guidelines for states to follow in developing and implementing their own plans. According to the EPA, Illinois must reduce its carbon emissions by 56 percent by 2030.