Efforts aim to fight climate change while protecting small businesses

  • Kevin Morrison

    Kevin Morrison

  • Cristina Castro

    Cristina Castro

 
By Kevin Morrison and Cristina Castro
Guest columnists
Posted4/15/2021 1:00 AM

Climate change is real and it's happening now.

Over the past year, raging wildfires, bitterly cold weather and extreme heat have left too many families across the country without homes, sick or struggling to find clean water.

 

Record-breaking rainfall in our own community last May caused severe flooding and Lake Michigan's rising water levels pose a threat to shorelines and beaches. This crisis requires bold, swift action. But let us be clear: We must help small businesses while combating climate change.

Small businesses are the backbone of our communities. Now more than ever, they need a helping hand -- and we believe clean energy legislation that helps the environment can also provide assistance for small businesses, create good-paying jobs and boost the local economy.

Look no further than Cook County and Illinois for proof.

With the Clean Energy Jobs Act, Illinois legislators have a golden opportunity to support under-resourced small businesses, help lower utility costs and significantly invest in clean energy.

CEJA, which the Illinois General Assembly is currently considering, would hold utilities accountable and ensure businesses and residents save money by requiring a multiyear grid planning process while also increasing transparency in the interconnection process.

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CEJA would also provide opportunities for businesses and disinvested communities to affordably install solar panels and ultimately lower utility costs. At the same time, it would establish a Contractor Incubator program to focus on developing underserved small businesses in the clean energy sector.

With the bill's proposed Clean Jobs Workforce Hubs, more people of color across the state would have direct support and new job opportunities. And CEJA's proposal of investing more than $30 billion in new clean energy infrastructure by 2030 could bring a host of new jobs to our local communities.

To us, CEJA is a clear win for businesses and local communities. We believe now is the time to pass this bill.

In Cook County, however, programs already exist that promote clean energy initiatives and assist businesses.

The Commercial Property Assessed Clean Energy Program (C-PACE), which Cook County launched in February, offers commercial property owners the opportunity to receive long-term financing to pay for renewable energy projects.

                                                                                                                                                                                                                       
 

The program can provide commercial property owners up to 100% upfront financing for HVAC systems, solar panel installation and many other energy efficiency improvements for new and existing properties. The financing is repaid as an assessment on each borrowers' property tax bill and because the savings from these projects are generally greater than the program's financing, businesses can quickly add to their cash reserves.

C-PACE is just a part of an ambitious plan to make Cook County greener and more energy efficient. The county's Clean Energy Plan, which was unveiled last year, seeks to make Cook County facilities carbon neutral by 2050 and achieve 100% clean electricity in county-owned buildings by 2030.

We are proud Cook County and Illinois are focusing on small businesses with climate change legislation -- because we know small businesses are struggling.

The coronavirus pandemic has devastated small businesses in the Northwest suburbs and Cook County. We have heard too many stories of family-run businesses closing, longtime employees losing their jobs and owners giving up their salaries just to keep on the lights.

Thankfully, the American Rescue Plan will deliver much-needed relief by allocating billions of dollars in aid for small businesses. But the package is only a piece of the help needed to get small businesses back on track.

Together, local and state governments can continue to both invest in small businesses and clean energy. We can and must solve this climate crisis while ensuring mom-and-pop shops get the help they need.

And make no mistake: The effects of climate change disproportionately impact communities of color. Addressing racial inequity means addressing climate change. CEJA seeks to close racial gaps by bringing clean energy jobs and development to underinvested communities and Cook County's Clean Energy Plan prioritizes racial equity.

We must keep working to build a cleaner and more sustainable future. But we cannot turn our backs on small businesses along the way.

• Cook County Commissioner Kevin B. Morrison, is a Democrat from Mount Prospect, state Sen. Cristina is an Elgin Democrat.

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