Daily Herald Opinion: No matter your political views on climate change, combating it is producing lots of jobs in Illinois.

Whether you favor aggressive energy policy aimed at slowing the warming of the earth or you consider it a frivolous use of money, here is something to make you happy.


Yep. Jobs in clean energy — installing solar panels, building electric car charging stations, manufacturing windmill parts and the R & D behind it all — are up in Illinois. In fact, Illinois leads the Midwest in clean energy job growth.

So, what's good for the environment can also be good for the local economy. Jobs are jobs.

Daily Herald climate reporter Jenny Whidden wrote this week about a report that shows advanced transportation and solar energy sectors drove the upward trend, with employment in the green energy sector rising nearly 5% in 2021 from the year before.

Some 120,000 people in Illinois are employed in such jobs — more than any state in the Midwest.

Being ahead of the curve now bodes well for Illinois down the line as the industry continues to develop and expand. Having an already experienced workforce in the burgeoning field will position Illinois for the inevitable and rapid expansion of the green energy economy.

“The big take-away here is clean energy jobs are an important part of Illinois and the Midwest economy, and they're growing,” said Micaela Preskill, the Midwest Advocate for Environmental Entrepreneurs, a climate policy advocacy group. “The clean energy economy is poised for growth like we've never seen before, and that's thanks to state policies like the Climate and Equitable Jobs Act and federal policies like the Inflation Reduction Act.”

Leading the way are jobs related to the manufacture and sale of electric, plug-in hybrid and hybrid vehicles. The sector grew by 28%, according to the study, or almost 3,000 jobs.

In addition to electric generation efforts, such as solar and wind power, and the production of electric cars, Illinois is working to create energy-savings solutions in homes and elsewhere.

Some 71% of those jobs are coming to small businesses, those with 20 or fewer employees, the report said.

Whidden spoke with Dave Wilms, of Libertyville, a project developer for Wisconsin-based SunPeak, which works with Illinois municipalities and school districts in building solar arrays. It works with a large Chicago-based carpenters union to train and hire solar panel installers.

“I think that that's only going to increase, which is fabulous,” he told Whidden. “With the new (Inflation Reduction Act) legislation, we're not only going to be producing and manufacturing solar racking and panels here in the United States, but tax breaks are increased to help more people install solar.”

So, if you're of a mind that climate change is either a government construct or simply overblown, you can rest easy knowing that legislation requiring a focus on the green sector is producing plenty of skilled and unskilled jobs.

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