New clean energy law gives Illinois a chance to show national leadership

As the calendar has turned to June, and contentious debates over the state budget dominate the news out of Springfield, it is easy to overlook some exceptionally good news for Illinois that begins this month.

On June 1, provisions of the historic Future Energy Jobs Act took effect. The bipartisan act, passed by the Illinois General Assembly and signed into law by Gov. Bruce Rauner in December of last year, represents the biggest breakthrough for clean energy in Illinois history - and may be one of the most innovative pieces of energy legislation enacted by any state in recent years.

By unleashing the power of renewable energy like wind and solar, the new bill allows Illinois to compete for jobs and investments too long conceded to other states. An estimated $12 billion to $15 billion in new capital is expected to come into Illinois by 2030 as a result of the law, and with it, thousands of new jobs.

The Future Energy Jobs Act gives renewable energy companies what all businesses need: predictability. Already, clean energy startups are opening their doors in Illinois in anticipation of the law. Many existing companies - in solar, wind, and energy efficiency - are set to expand and hire new workers. After years of building elsewhere, solar and wind developers from both coasts are targeting Illinois as a place to do business.

The law builds on Illinois' clean energy successes by establishing one of the most ambitious energy efficiency programs in the entire nation. Illinois already enjoys the lowest electricity costs in the Midwest because of energy efficiency, and the Future Energy Jobs Act takes that success further. According to an analysis by the Citizens Utility Board, residential customers will enjoy at least $4 billion in lower electric bills over the lifetime of the law, which also includes measures to safeguard these customers.

More energy efficiency also means more jobs. Already, more than 85,000 people across Illinois work installing more efficient heating and cooling systems, weather stripping, energy saving windows, and other upgrades. The new law expands the rewards for utilities, businesses, and residential customers who make these upgrades, translating to more energy-efficiency jobs.

Importantly, the Future Energy Jobs Act ensures the benefits of clean energy reach a broader and more diverse population than ever before. For the first time, Illinois will have a community solar program, which enables people who cannot install solar panels on their own property - because they rent or live in multifamily housing, for example - to take advantage of a shared solar array. As a result, affordable, renewable energy will be available to a far wider number of customers, regardless of income level or the type of property in which they reside.

Additionally, the law creates the new Illinois Solar for All Program, an innovative job training program for low-income and economically-disadvantaged communities in every part of the state - urban and rural. The program will open clean energy jobs to more people than ever before.

On top of the economic benefits, Illinoisans will breathe healthier air - to the tune of an annual 32 million-ton reduction in carbon pollution by 2030. Lowering pollution from the power sector means fewer heart attacks and asthma attacks, lower health care costs and lives saved.

Regardless of Illinois' budget challenges, the Future Energy Jobs Act ensures we are on track to become a leader in the clean energy economy - securing the jobs, energy savings, and health benefits that come with that vision. At a time when our country can seem more divided than ever, Illinois is showing national, bipartisan leadership by embracing forward-thinking ideas and putting them to work.

Dick Munson is director of Midwest Clean Energy for the Environmental Defense Fund, a national organization devoted to protecting the environment.

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