After a landmark first year in office that included passing legislation on pension reform and recreational cannabis as well as putting a new state income tax proposal on the ballot this November, Illinois Gov. JB Pritzker seemingly tackled every major item from his 2018 campaign agenda, with the exception of passing comprehensive energy legislation. But maybe not for long. In his State of the State address on Wed., Gov. Pritzker said, “Our spring agenda must address the pressing issue of adopting new clean energy legislation that reduces carbon pollution, promotes renewable energy, and accelerates electrification of our transportation sector.” In adding that he would not “sign an energy bill written by the utility companies,” he was also giving a sign of the potential for broad stakeholder input – and AEE is already ahead of the game.
Last week, AEE brought 10 member companies to meet with Deputy Gov. Christian Mitchell and First Assistant Deputy Gov. Bria Scudder. The companies included representatives from Apex Clean Energy, Pattern Energy, NextEra Energy, SunPower, Microsoft, Enel X, Uplight, CPower, Greenlots, and EVgo. We also delivered a letter, addressed to Gov. Pritkzer, laying out the principles we thought should inform the comprehensive energy legislation the administration was planning to pursue.
Deputy Gov. Mitchell opened the meeting by asking companies in attendance to share their best “moonshot” ideas, encouraging creative thinking on how best to cultivate the state’s renewable energy, energy efficiency, and transportation electrification opportunities. The governor’s office also sought specific information about the types of skills needed to exponentially increase the number of Illinoisans working in the new energy economy.
That last part is essential because if we’re going to embrace the governor’s vision for Illinois, we cannot simply mitigate climate change, but must also invest in the resources, workers, and communities that will define the state’s economic future. The good news is Illinois is already off to a great start with more than 130,000 people employed across the state’s advanced energy sector. However, that number barely scratches the surface of the state’s potential.
For example, there are upwards of 85,000 people working in energy efficiency jobs in Illinois, and that’s without the state’s largest energy users participating in utility-run efficiency programs. Providing program access to those large commercial and industrial companies – a key policy omitted from the 2016 Future Energy Jobs Act (FEJA) – would send a strong market signal that the state is prioritizing the capture of “low hanging fruit” efficiency savings.
Additionally, ramping up the deployment of utility-scale wind and solar projects, along with distributed solar and energy storage technologies, requires a sustained long-term commitment. A commitment to create market certainty and avoid the typical boom-or-bust project development lifecycle can, and should, start by significantly increasing the state’s budget for renewables. While FEJA was lauded three years ago as a boon for renewables, Illinois will fall significantly short of reaching its 25% RPS target by 2025 without a strategic fix. Creating a steady stream of funding for renewables would have a “force multiplier” effect on the industry, encouraging not just project developers to keep building, but also attracting manufacturers across the renewable energy supply chain to invest operational capacity in Illinois.
Similarly, realizing the potential of an electrified transportation sector offers benefits that go far beyond reducing carbon emissions. Because the operation of the distribution grid imposes a fixed cost on utilities, every EV driver added onto the system creates a wider rate base for which to spread those fixed costs, thereby driving down the cost of electricity for all Illinois consumers. And with the right policies in place to incentivize the purchase of light-, medium- and heavy-duty EVs, as well as the expansion of vehicle charging infrastructure, Illinois can reduce the impacts of climate change without consumers’ pocketbooks serving as sacrificial lambs.
What’s clear is that the Pritzker administration has an immense opportunity moving forward to hang an “Open for Business” sign on Illinois for advanced energy and position the state as the Midwest leader in advanced energy jobs. But doing so will require guidance from the companies that define the sector writ large and sunsetting, in Gov. Pritzker’s own words, “the old ways of negotiating energy legislation.” With the legislative session well under way, AEE will be hard at it.