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Illinois’ Clean Energy Jobs Act puts people and climate first

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EDF's energy experts discuss how to accelerate the transition to a clean, low-carbon energy economy. Guided by science and economics, EDF tackles urgent threats with practical solutions. Founded...

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By Christie Hicks

Last week was a big one for Illinois energy advocacy. Hundreds of activists from around the state descended on the Capitol to rally and knock on legislators’ doors to persuade them to pass the Clean Energy Jobs Act now. Then, the Illinois House and Senate each held hearings where EDF and our partners in the Illinois Clean Jobs Coalition spoke with legislators to share a similar message: Momentum for clean energy legislation is picking up and CEJA is the only comprehensive piece of legislation on the table that protects both the environment and consumers’ pocketbooks.

In 2016, Illinois took bold action through the Future Energy Jobs Act, embracing of wind, solar and energy efficiency. By enacting this law, Illinois put itself on the front lines of the clean energy revolution.

However, transforming the energy sector is an ever-evolving, momentous task. It cannot be addressed in one fell swoop.

Time is of the essence

The urgent need for additional clean energy legislation has become all the more apparent in just the past year, as new challenges have arisen. Without legislative action, 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.

 

Illinois has a small window of opportunity to avoid the worst impacts of the latest threat, a decision by federal energy regulators issued in December that reshapes the region’s capacity market — a system where generators bid for payments on the promise to have power on reserve three years later — in favor of fossil generators. It will block renewable sources from counting toward that reserve, and will ensure that dirty fuel sources get even higher payments for promising to be online just a handful of days out of the year.

CEJA would allow the state to opt out of this regional capacity market, relying instead on the Illinois Power Agency to oversee a state market that prioritizes carbon-free resources and puts money back into the pockets of customers. The first auction under the new rules is expected to take place at the end of this year or early next year, and there is a four month advanced notice requirement to opt out. If the state does not pass CEJA in time, not only will we once again pay for significantly more reserve energy than we need, but electricity prices will increase to pay for unnecessary fossil fuel plants.

For the people, by the people

As daunting as these individual challenges are, we can’t consider any of these in isolation. It is time for a holistic approach — one that recognizes the interrelatedness of energy, emissions and equity, and maximizes the impact of every dollar invested.

That’s why EDF, and our partners in the Clean Jobs Coalition, developed a bill based on over one hundred listening sessions throughout the state. The Clean Energy Jobs Act is the result of that public and transparent exercise. This is a critical point.

As Gov. J.B. Pritzker said in his State of the State Address earlier this year, it’s time for clean energy legislation that puts consumers and climate first — but, he will not sign an energy bill “written by the utility companies.”

It is true that other interests, including billion-dollar companies, have their own energy proposals they have put forward. While weighing their options, lawmakers should gauge which proposals pass this test:

  • Does it reduce greenhouse gas emissions and air pollution enough to do Illinois’ part in addressing the global climate catastrophe we are facing?
  • Does it protect Illinois from the economic and health impacts of the Trump administration’s attempt to bail out fossil fuel companies?
  • Does it ensure that every customer dollar spent on energy is working to achieve a state priority, like building more renewables and reinvesting in communities across the state?
  • Most importantly, does it equitably distribute benefits to communities that have for too long borne disproportionate burdens of pollution, climate change and energy unaffordability? Does it lift them up and invite them to the table?

Only CEJA addresses all of these critical issues.

As part of a CEJA Lobby Day, hundreds of people from around Illinois came to the Capitol last week urging legislators to vote for the Clean Energy Jobs Act, the one bill that puts people and climate first. We hope lawmakers were listening.

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