Renewables, EVs pushed in Illinois ‘Green New Deal’

Source: Jeffrey Tomich, E&E News reporter • Posted: Friday, March 1, 2019

Two years after Illinois passed legislation to expand renewables and subsidize nuclear plants, many of the same key players are proposing a bolder and more ambitious bill to slash carbon emissions and spur jobs and economic growth equitably across the state.

The “Clean Energy Jobs Act” immediately drew comparisons to the “Green New Deal” when it was announced this morning at news conferences in Chicago and Springfield by a group of three dozen Democratic legislators, environmental groups, and labor and businesses leaders.

The bill is meant to build on the state’s 2016 Future Energy Jobs Act and aligns with many of the policy goals of Gov. J.B. Pritzker (D), who has pledged to put Illinois on a pathway to 100 percent renewable energy by midcentury.

“It will lead to clean energy, jobs and cleaner air across the state,” said Jen Walling, executive director of the Illinois Environmental Council, who chaired the energy and environment committee for Pritzker’s transition team.

S.B. 2132 in the Senate and its companion bill in the House, H.B. 3624, seek to eliminate carbon emissions from Illinois’ power sector by the end of next decade by establishing a 50 percent renewable energy standard. The bill also includes a 100 percent renewable goal by 2050.

In addition to requiring the Illinois Power Agency to buy carbon-free energy, the bill would direct the Illinois EPA to regulate carbon emissions from the power sector starting in 2020 by establishing annual caps that would be ratcheted down each year over the next decade.

The bill doesn’t specifically call for the continued operation of Exelon Corp.’s dozen nuclear plants, but the utility was part of negotiations, and lead sponsor Sen. Cristina Castro (D) said the bill’s supporters are “willing to sit down with all of the key stakeholders” to discuss how to meet the carbon reduction goals.

The bill is ambitious on many fronts, including the amount of new wind and solar development that would be required to meet half of the state’s energy needs in a decade — an estimated 24,000 megawatts.

Right now, Illinois only gets about 8 percent of its energy from renewable resources, and the state’s current renewable energy standard calls for reaching 25 percent by 2025.

The measure is also bold because it would also mean the end for coal as a power plant fuel in the state, one that ranks among the top five producers and users.

Transportation is another of the bill’s four “pillars.” While the legislation wouldn’t regulate vehicle emissions — the leading source of greenhouse gases in Illinois — it aims to remove the equivalent of 1 million gasoline and diesel-powered vehicles from the state’s roadways by 2030, in part by incentivizing electric vehicles.

Like the “Green New Deal,” the Illinois bill goes beyond energy and contains significant economic and social components aimed at ensuring that the benefits of the state’s clean energy transition are shared across the state.

The goals of the legislation grew out of 60 community meetings across the state organized by the Illinois Clean Jobs Coalition, a group of environmental, businesses, labor and faith groups that organized in 2015 to push legislation that ultimately became the Future Energy Jobs Act.

Numerous provisions in the bill announced today, such as the creation of workforce “hubs,” job training and tax incentives, are specifically aimed at boosting low-income and minority neighborhoods as well as coal plant and mine workers and communities that have been hit hardest by fossil fuel pollution.

“We need the benefits of clean energy to reach all 102 counties in Illinois, rural and urban,” said Rep. Ann Williams (D), the bill’s lead sponsor in the House and chairwoman of the House Energy and Environment Committee. “The bill is ambitious, but it’s achievable.”