Speaking Out: We need a clean energy and jobs bill

  • Elliott Hartstein

    Elliott Hartstein

Updated 6/23/2021 11:33 PM

The need for clean and renewable energy and getting away from fossil fuels is compelling if we want to address climate change. The need for reliable and sustainable energy is compelling if we want to avoid blackouts and outages like the ones earlier this year in California and Texas due to problems with electrical grids. The need to address jobs where energy plants face closure for either economic or environmental concerns is compelling. Where actions have not been taken nationally or internationally to address some of these issues, the need to get the ball rolling at the state level is compelling. Nonetheless, after several years of debating these issues here in Illinois, we have not been able to get a Clean Energy and Jobs bill onto the Governor's desk.

There has been lots of effort over the last three years, but competing interests have prevented a bill from getting to the finish line. It had been hoped by many that during a special session earlier in June that we might see a compromise bill emerge. Sadly, that did not happen. We need to keep pushing our friends in Springfield to get the job done.


What are some of the facts that all should know when talking about this needed legislation? First, we should understand how electricity is generated in Illinois. According to the Illinois Environmental Council, as of 2019, the sources for the state's electricity generation was a mix of sources: 30% from coal-fired plants, 7% from natural gas, 10% from renewables like wind and solar, and 54% coming from nuclear power plants, the most from that source of any state in the nation. Illinois is served by two electrical grids: ComEd, which serves the northern part of the state, and Ameren, which serves the remainder and adjacent areas. Illinois generates more electricity than it needs and is a major exporter. Per the U.S. Energy Administration, Illinois sends about 1/5 of the power it generates to other states. Due to emissions standards and regulations and economic pressures, many coal-fired plants have been shut down, resulting in the loss of jobs. Due to economic issues in the electricity market, some nuclear power plants are scheduled to close notwithstanding reliability and widespread use, which could create more job loss and loss of electrical capacity. The prime renewable source is wind power, providing 97% of Illinois' renewable energy generation, and the state has additional wind power potential with much capacity under construction or in development. Solar generation is less than .1%, with most being rooftop panels in residential use. However, projections from the National Wildlife Federation suggest that devoting 1 square mile to solar power could provide enough electricity for about 1100 households per year. The Wildlife Federation also notes that 39% of Illinois' CO2 emissions come from electricity generation and that shifting to renewable sources could significantly reduce emissions.

The Clean Energy and Jobs Act needs to be pushed and resolved. From an environmental standpoint, it would phase out coal-burning plants by 2035 and require transition to carbon-free energy by 2045. It would save over 1000 union jobs at nuclear plants, which would also ensure adequate capacity as the state moves toward more renewable energy. It would promote and support more development of renewal energy with well-paying green jobs. For consumers it would end automatic rate increases and hold utilities to stricter ethical guidelines. For economically stressed communities where coal plants have been closed, it will support creation of jobs and stimulate local economies around the state. The bill also has a goal of putting 1 million electric vehicles on the road by 2050, including $4000 rebates for purchase of electric vehicles, as well as rebates or grants for up to 80 percent of the cost of installing charging stations. As stated by Rep. Dave Vella of Rockford in an article of the Center for Illinois politics: "There is a lot on the table like keeping down energy costs for consumers and taking care of the Environment for the next generation, but in the end it's jobs, jobs, jobs."

Let's us push our legislators to make this happen.

• Elliott Hartstein of Northbrook is an attorney and former village president of Buffalo Grove.

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