Illinois' push to clean energy has been re-energized by 2021 law

For Jon Carson, founder of solar developer Trajectory Energy Partners, the impact of the state's massive climate bill — the Climate and Equitable Jobs Act or CEJA — has been stark and immediate.

Since the law's passage a year and a half ago, his company's head count has doubled in size.

Trajectory Energy Partners, based in Highland Park, works on community solar as well as large, utility-scale projects.

While Illinois' previous climate bill — the Future Energy Jobs Act of 2017 — helped kick-start the solar industry, that momentum didn't last long, Carson said.

“By the time we got to late 2021, solar had kind of started to grind to a halt in Illinois, and so CEJA was just a tremendous shot in the arm. It's a fantastic bill, and it has energized the industry,” he said. “We've seen all the action.”

Carson added that from his perspective, renewable energy is bringing people to Illinois: The company recently hired an employee who grew up in Ohio, and it has several people on its payroll who moved to the state from Wisconsin.

Both residential rooftop projects and large-scale solar projects like the ones Carson works on have been fueled by incentives and grant programs that came out of CEJA.

The legislation's passage in September 2021 was heralded by advocates and environmental groups as a major climate victory for the state — one that put Illinois on the national map as a leader in climate action and set the stage for what the road to clean energy looks like.

That was a year and a half ago. Since then, state departments, utilities and industry groups have been working to implement the dense, 900-page law. While some sectors like solar and transportation have taken off, a lot of work remains before the state will realize its lofty goals of reaching 40% renewable energy by 2030.

Workforce boost

With the state generating just 11% renewable electricity as of 2021, according to the U.S. Energy Information Administration, stakeholders like Carson say they are bringing on a new generation of energy workers.

John Delurey, the Midwest deputy programs director for nonprofit advocacy group Vote Solar, said CEJA set up annual allocations so the industry wouldn't hit a wall like it did when funding dried up in 2021.

“We're seeing so much more capacity, so many more projects on the board now than we were seeing before,” Delurey said.

Since CEJA, 16,955 small rooftop solar projects have been submitted into the state incentives program, Delurey said. Each are an average size of 7.6 kilowatts, which is about 23 panels.

Jobs are a lot harder to measure, Delurey said, though he added that the next solar jobs census is expected to be released by the Interstate Renewable Energy Council this summer.

The current number of solar projects by ZIP code can be found at The website is a collaboration between advocacy group Illinois Clean Jobs Coalition and civic technology volunteer group Chi Hack Night.

For instance, the map shows that in ZIP code 60005, which is in Arlington Heights, a total of 54 solar projects represent 549 kilowatts of electrical energy.

With the state's growth in not only renewable energy sources but also electric vehicles and electric home appliances, utilities like ComEd are planning on how to meet the objectives of CEJA as well.

ComEd released a grid and rate plan in January that would increase its delivery rates by a total of $1.5 billion over four years. ComEd officials said the revenue will ensure grid performance and reliability in the face of a growing movement to decarbonize and electrify the transportation and building sectors.

“Customers are installing more and more solar between rooftop solar and community solar. The grid needs to function differently than the way it was designed, meaning we're going to need to make upgrades on the grid to enable the seamless integration of this new type of technology,” Michelle Blaise, ComEd Senior Vice President of Technical Services, said in January following the announcement of the rate increase.

Work continues

Statewide, the current priority is ensuring the implementation of CEJA while also taking advantage of the federal climate package passed last summer, said Samira Hanessian, the energy policy director at environmental advocacy group Illinois Environmental Council.

“The work definitely continues. We've continued to work with our industry partners, and advocates around ensuring that state agencies maintain their timeline and continue to stand up programs as expected,” Hanessian said. “But the new shiny object that's a big deal to everyone is the passage of the Inflation Reduction Act and how that's really launched and helped elevate a lot of the work around CEJA.”

The Inflation Reduction Act includes nearly $370 billion for energy and climate reform, making it the largest federal clean energy investment in U.S. history.

Hanessian said the federal law has served as a springboard for energy work by providing additional funding such as the upcoming Greenhouse Gas Reduction Fund program, which will allocate $27 billion for clean energy and air investments starting this summer.

Also under CEJA, the state Department of Commerce and Economic Opportunity is responsible for implementing dozens of investments in workforce development related to clean energy, including funding 13 training hubs across the state.

The hub locations are meant to help bolster a diverse workforce as well as support energy workers and communities facing plant closures. Locations will include the South and West sides of Chicago, Waukegan, Decatur, Carbondale and Alton, among others.

While a department spokesperson previously said the goal was to have some of the hubs running by the end of last year, that timeline has since been moved back.

In a February presentation, Linda Larsen of the department's CEJA launch team said the workforce hub program — alongside several others such as a program to provide grants and other support service to diverse energy contractors — will be launched over the next few months.

“CEJA goes beyond creating a handful of programs — it is designed to create an entire ecosystem which has required a thoughtful and deliberative process to ensure the state meets its goals,” department spokesperson Eliza Glezer said in an email. “The program design, stakeholder engagement, and application selection represent the longest part of the process, and (the department) is well-positioned to launch all remaining programs this year.”

• Jenny Whidden is a climate change and environment writer working with the Daily Herald through a partnership with Report For America supported by The Nature Conservancy. To help support her work with a tax-deductible donation, see

COURTESY OF TRAJECTORY ENERGY PARTNERSTrajectory Energy Partners, an Illinois-based solar developer, works on community solar as well as large, utility-scale projects like this development in Rockford.
COURTESY OF TRAJECTORY ENERGY PARTNERSTrajectory Energy Partners developed a solar project in Rockford in conjunction with the City of Rockford. The project was selected in the first round of the Illinois Solar for All program, which was expanded under CEJA.

How suburbs are faring under CEJA

Towns ZIP No. of projects kW

Waukegan, Park City, North Chicago 60085 158 1915

Grayslake, Gages Lake, Third Lake, Wildwood, Round Lake Park 60030 179 5075

McHenry, Johnsburg, Bull Valley, McCullom Lake 60050 129 1381

Barrington Hills, Deer Park, Hoffman Estates, Barrington 60010 167 1498

Elgin 60123 153 2307

Aurora, Montgomery 60506 214 3075

Naperville 60540 64 940

Des Plaines, Rosemont, Chicago 60018 78 701

Northbrook, Glenview, Prospect Heights 60062 95 1626

Lake Zurich, Long Grove, Hawthorn Woods, Kildeer 60047 194 3020

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