Jobs act would show companies state is serious about clean energy
Growing up as a blue-collar kid from Rolling Meadows I know how important jobs are for Illinois residents. I feel as though Illinois has an incredible opportunity to lead the nation in renewable energy job creation and infrastructure if it could only support the huge amount of progress it has made in the last two years.
Since leaving University of Illinois Urbana-Champaign in 2004 and then the option pits at the Chicago Board of Trade in 2008, I've built a new career in energy commodities. I now own a group of companies that provide a wide range of energy services -- from utility bill auditing and energy reduction plans to developing wind and solar power projects for businesses, schools and municipalities. I know firsthand that clean energy is a win-win for Illinois because it creates jobs, builds our local economies and is essential to hitting our climate goals.
Despite the critical role clean energy will play in our future, today, the solar industry in Illinois faces an uncertain outlook, and it is time Illinois lawmakers pass the Clean Energy Jobs Act (CEJA) to guarantee this important industry continues to thrive.
My business has completed more than 1,400 projects in 48 states across the country. Even though I've lived in Illinois my entire life, until recently Illinois wasn't a big part of our portfolio. That's because state policies didn't support new clean energy technologies until the Future Energy Jobs Act (FEJA) passed in December of 2016. Since FEJA became law, clean energy companies have flocked to the state, communities are benefiting from new solar and wind projects and companies like mine are hiring.
FEJA incentivized development of roughly 1,300 MW of new solar capacity by increasing the program for renewable energy credits, which values renewables for their clean energy. It has been wildly successful, but simply put, the program is not enough to meet the demand for new solar projects in the state.
Now I'm faced with dozens of potential projects -- with strong community support -- that won't get built until a guarantee from the state to fund more renewable energy credits. Projects currently on hold include solar developments at public schools in both Genoa and Crystal Lake, the Algonquin waste water plant and the College of Lake County, among others.
The solar companies that opened operations in Illinois after the passage of FEJA are faced with debilitating uncertainty, and businesses like mine need market certainty that Illinois' renewable market cannot currently provide. Verde Solutions hired new staff in anticipation of doing new business in Illinois. Without action in Springfield, we are going to need to make hard choices. Current employees will likely seek more solar-friendly states to further their solar careers. Illinois is going to lose more great people if we do not act soon.
In short, Illinois is barreling toward a solar cliff, avoidable only if we pass legislation that will continue the smart investments already started by FEJA -- and we need it in short order.
Gov. JB Pritzker has pledged to get Illinois to 100% renewable energy. To do that, he should urge the legislature to pass the Clean Energy Jobs Act as soon as possible. CEJA aligns the governor's 100% renewable energy goal with increasing demand for solar and the industry's desire to expand operations in Illinois.
CEJA will lead to building more than 40 million new solar panels and 2,500 wind turbines across Illinois by 2030, generating $39 billion in new private investment, and will provide a market signal to renewable energy companies that Illinois is a place they should do business long term.
If Gov. Pritzker and the General Assembly choose to invest in clean energy in the service of communities throughout the state through CEJA, businesses like mine will continue to do so as well.
In solving complex problems, it is rarely the case that any single option on the table is all at once good for business, communities -- and the planet. However, the Clean Energy Jobs Act does all of those things, making it a clear next step for our state.
Christopher Gersch is the Founder and CEO of Verde Solutions and Lecturer at the University of Chicago in the Masters in Financial Mathematics Program.