When it comes to clean energy, few states have as much potential as Illinois. The state supports more than 123,200 clean energy jobs, and its residents have a strong interest in building a cleaner, more sustainable future. An April 2019 poll found that 80 percent of homeowners and renters surveyed would be interested in 100 percent clean energy if provided the option.
Illinois ranks second in the Midwest in terms of clean energy jobs. In 2018, it added more than 4,700 jobs, a 4 percent increase over the year prior. These figures were compiled by the non-partisan group Environmental Entrepreneurs (E2), and released in the report Clean Energy Jobs America 2019. Illinois employers surveyed in the report are predicting a growth rate of 8.5 percent this year, more than doubling that of 2018.
Chicago Commits to 100% Clean Energy
In the spring, Chicago became the largest city in the U.S. to set a goal of 100 percent carbon-free electricity by 2035. Mayor Rahm Emanuel’s plan to transition the politically liberal city to clean energy sources was approved by the city council in April of 2019. The mayor’s plan, Resilient Chicago, calls for a number of actions to reduce emissions, such as:
- Improving the energy efficiency of Chicago’s buildings
- Electrifying city fleet vehicles
- Shifting to 100 percent renewable energy to meet the city’s electricity needs
- Adopting zero-emission transit buses
- Promoting greater access to community solar
With a population of nearly 2.7 million, Chicago’s commitment to emission-free electricity brings the total to about 17 percent of the U.S. population that have now set renewable energy commitments. Now, to get the state of Illinois to follow in the Windy City’s lead…
Illinois Poised to Reclaim its Clean Energy Leader Title
Back in 2007, Illinois was dubbed a leader in the clean energy sector when it passed both a renewable portfolio standard (RPS) and an energy efficiency portfolio standard (EEPS). These targets require investor-owned utilities (IOUs) to supply 25 percent of their electricity from renewables by 2025, while making annual reductions in energy demand that equal 2 percent of the previous year’s sales.
Unfortunately, the progress towards these environmentally responsible targets has been hindered by “policy flaws” as experts have noted. For instance, Illinois state law limits utility spending on measures that reduce consumption – even if these measures ultimately benefit the end-user.
The Union of Concerned Scientists believes that the state can reclaim its clean energy leadership position by “fixing and strengthening” these RPS and EEPS targets. The group recommends requiring 35 percent of electricity to come from renewables by 2030, and having utilities reduce energy demand by 20 percent over the next 10 years. The anticipated outcome, the scientists discovered, could be significant:
- Drive an estimated $23 billion in clean energy investments statewide.
- Reduce the average customer electricity bill 11 percent in 2020 and 23 percent by 2030.
- Construct over 5,200 MW of wind and solar projects by 2030.
- Achieve a 9 percent reduction in carbon pollution, leading to lower occurrences of lung disease and respiratory problems.
- Save consumers a collective $12.1 billion in electricity between 2015 and 2030.
- Stimulate the state economy with more than $200 million each year through tax revenue, lease payments to landowners for renewable projects, maintenance expenses and more.
Already, Illinois’ clean energy jobs make up roughly 2 percent of all jobs in the state. With stronger renewable targets policies in place, the state can expect to make monumental strides when it comes to facilitating the widespread adoption of clean energy throughout the state.
“The clean energy economy is only just getting started in Illinois,” Jonathan Roberts, VP of Development in Midwest at Soltage Solar, said in a statement.
The Clean Energy Jobs 2019 report notes that seven out of 10 clean energy workers in Illinois are employed in the energy efficiency sector. Renewable energy is the second-largest employer in the state’s clean energy, supporting nearly 17,000 Illinois residents. Wind leads the charge with more than 8,700 jobs, followed by solar at over 5,300.
“Solar development has yet to be fully unleashed, and still clean jobs already make up 1 out of every 50 jobs — growing faster than statewide employment,” Roberts added. “Illinois workers and businesses will be reaping the benefits of clean energy even more in the coming years.”