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A new renewable energy program in Illinois is have wide impacts on the local economy and energy sector

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Christopher Neely's picture
Independent, Local News Organization

Journalist for nearly a decade with keen interest in local energy policies for cities and national efforts to facilitate a renewable revolution. 

  • Member since 2017
  • 755 items added with 372,724 views
  • Aug 13, 2021

Illinois, like most states, has ambitious targets for renewable energy: 100 percent clean energy by 2050. However, the state is distinguishing itself by casting a wide net to get more people on board and, more importantly, prioritizing that no one is left behind in achieving those goals.


The Future Energy Jobs Act, passed in 2016, has focused on equity in reaching a renewable future that lifts all boats. ComEd, the state’s largest electric utility, reported earlier this year they connected 10,250 residential customers to energy sources like private solar, and connected another 20 community solar projects to the system. With the distributed generation added through in 2020, the distributed generation rebate program for commercial customers jumped from $8 million in 2019 to $21 million in 2020.


The act funnels up to $220 million per year into wind power, solar, rooftop solar and community energy programs.


However, a new report from ComEd for the Illinois Commerce Commission shows the FEJA is finding success in more areas than just renewable energy connections. The FEJA also allocates millions of dollars in upskilling the workforce with a focus on under-represented communities.  The Solar Pipeline, Multi-Cultural Job Training and Craft Apprenticeship programs. The report shows that in 2018, 285 students graduated and 82 percent finished the training in their first year.


“That tells us they're highly motivated to take advantage of emerging opportunities in renewable energy," Melissa Washington, vice president of governmental and external affairs of ComEd said in a statement. " We expect that this training will continue to gain traction as solar energy grows throughout Illinois."


The job training and upskilling is done through a handful of organizations. A partnership between Millennium Solar Electrical and nonprofit Elevate energy held a 10-week training that produced 30 graduates, 28 of which found work in solar. Another organization, Safer Foundation, based in Chicago, held a solar energy training program that produced 45 graduates, 90 percent of whom found employment in the industry. The program received $10 million in 2017 and will receive other cash infusions of $10 million in 2021 and 2025.


Chris Williams, CEO of Millennium Solar Electrical says solar is the future and offers a bevy of opportunities. "We're helping serious candidates gain the skills and the confidence needed to get into the solar industry and proceed as far as their talents will take them," he said in a statement.


Upskilling programs have received criticism in some circles because, while the intention is to offer more opportunities, it is difficult to get the populations most at risk of being left behind into these programs. They often take place while people are working, or taking care of their families, making it difficult to attend. However, the efficiency of the programs offered through Illinois’ FEJA is a positive sign. Political will toward a renewable revolution has grown, and programs like this that show a clear benefit to the workforce will only help the cause.


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