Businesses poised to benefit from Illinois' renewable energy boom

If 2019 is ending a decade of increased awareness of environmental issues, 2020 will usher in the next decade of more aggressive action on combating climate change in Illinois.

For many local residents, the solution is clear: decarbonizing Illinois' economy in the fastest and most effective way possible to sustain a healthy environment - while growing jobs and the state's economy. For business owners, this presents a number of new opportunities to be a part of the solution.

As CEO of Hero Power, a renewable electricity supplier serving northern Illinois, I've seen firsthand how this growing sector supports business goals, and has the potential to transform the economy.

State is ready for 100% renewable energy

Organizers pushing for the Clean Energy Jobs Act are quickly gaining support to secure plans for the state's renewable energy future. The bill outlines how Illinois can achieve 100% renewable energy, creating more than $30 billion in new private investment and preparing the state for the clean, green economy we need to fight climate change. Whether or not this bill passes in the 2020 legislative session, it's seemingly inevitable that Illinois will join the growing number of states - like New Jersey, New York, and Hawaii - outlining a path to 100% renewable energy.

Chicago didn't wait. In April, it became the largest city in the United States to commit to 100% clean energy. The City Council unanimously approved a resolution to power all of Chicago's buildings with clean energy by 2035, and to electrify the CTA's fleet of 1,850 buses by 2040. Cook County officials are developing a plan to adopt 100% renewables, as well.

Consumers are ready to choose

Local residents aren't just looking to their legislative representatives to act. Buying behavior is changing. In Illinois, a poll conducted last month by Hero Power found that 64% of residents are more likely to purchase goods and services from a business that has adopted renewable energy. According to a recent study by New York University's Stern School of Business, sales from products marketed as sustainable have grown nearly 6 times faster than non-sustainable products in the same industry over the last five years.

At home, more than 600,000 residential customers in the state have already switched from dirty energy to renewables, according to the National Renewable Energy Laboratory. These residents are switching to new suppliers, like Hero Power, that purchase Renewable Energy Certificates (RECs) on behalf of its customers, funding the development of more clean energy generation. RECs are issued when a renewable power source, such as a wind or solar farm, generates 1,000 kWh of electricity. Since the power grid is not able to send clean electricity electrons into homes, RECs are the best way for consumers to support the growing clean energy industry.

Businesses are ready to benefit

Across the state, renewable energy is changing how companies do business. Last year, Amazon, the largest employer in Will County, launched a "Climate Pledge" to achieve net zero emissions by 2040. Illinois' largest employer, Walmart, aims to be powered by 50% renewable energy by 2025. Across the state, a growing number of solar and wind projects are coming online to meet increasing demand. Meanwhile, Vistra Energy, one of downstate's leading energy producers, closed half its Illinois coal-fired plants last summer alone. Nationally, renewables, like wind and solar power, are now cheaper than coal.

And the growth in innovation in the industry means more jobs in Illinois. Clean energy has already created 123,000 jobs in the state. As more development in the sector becomes inevitable, expect even more residents to find high-paying work in the renewables industry.

The more I discuss these solutions with local business owners, the more excitement I see for what's coming. It's clear we're ready to build a better future now.

• Ty Benefiel is the co-founder and CEO of Hero Power, a renewable electricity supplier, and co-host of The Climate Pod, a weekly podcast on climate and environmental issues.

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