Illinois leads the Midwest in clean energy jobs, report says

Source: By Ally Marotti, Chicago Tribune • Posted: Monday, May 16, 2016

Clean energy

Illinois has more clean energy jobs than any state in the Midwest and a stronger projected job growth rate than the region as a whole, but the state took a hit in wind and solar jobs last year, according to a new report.

The Chicago-based Clean Energy Trust released its first Clean Jobs Midwest report on Tuesday, looking at the status of clean energy jobs in 12 states. The report found that Illinois had nearly 114,000 clean energy jobs and posted 9 percent job growth in 2015.

Those Illinois jobs are on track to grow another 5.3 percent this year, surpassing the Midwest’s 4.4 percent projected growth rate, according to the report.

Ian Adams, director of public affairs at Clean Energy Trust, said much of that growth came in areas that many people don’t think of as being part of the clean energy sector.

Almost four out of five clean energy jobs in Illinois deal with energy efficiency, which includes lighting, building materials, heating and air conditioning.

“People … understand the idea of someone screwing a wrench on solar panels on someone’s roof or putting up a wind turbine,” Adams said. “A significant part of this economic activity is happening in (energy efficiency), where people at first glance might not realize there are clean energy activities going on.”

And actually, those stereotypical clean jobs took a hit. Illinois lost 10.8 percent of its wind jobs and 3.4 percent of its solar jobs between 2014 and 2015, according to the report.

Adams attributes that to a broken set of state regulations.

Illinois officials declared in 2007 that 25 percent of the state’s power must come from clean sources by 2025, a rule designed to foster investment in clean energy, Adams said.

But a state policy complicates how money to meet that goal is spent, so less cash has been getting to renewable energy companies, he said.

The Illinois Power Agency collects money that should be spent on clean energy, Adams said. But a regulatory quirk has made it difficult for the agency to spend cash collected from alternate energy suppliers operating in the state.

Amy Francetic ⇒, senior vice president of new ventures and corporate affairs at Chicago-based renewable energy company Invenergy, said she wasn’t surprised to see the drop in wind and solar jobs.

She’s closely tied to the Clean Energy Trust — she was the group’s CEO until December. Like the Trust, Invenergy actively advocates for clean energy in Springfield.

Policy issues like Illinois’ can drive Invenergy and other clean energy companies to look for business elsewhere, she said.

“There’s not as much of a market appetite for clean energy in the state, so they’re producing energy here from wind and solar” and selling it elsewhere, Francetic said. “We have a battery operation and a solar farm here, but we would bid on more if the state was purchasing more.”

Peter Littlewood, director of Argonne National Laboratory, said he expects to see more clean energy job growth in the Midwest, especially if the United States’ promise to spend $20 billion on clean energy research and development in the next five years, made at the United Nations climate talks in Paris in December, is taken seriously.

“The Midwest is well-poised to take big chunks of that, because of the concentration we have of a very interesting mix of international labs and universities that play a big role,” he said.

This is the Clean Energy Trust’s third year conducting the survey for Illinois, and its first year surveying the entire Midwest. About 20,000 businesses participated in the survey, which also incorporated data from the Bureau of Labor Statistics.