SPRINGFIELD, Ill. – Gov. JB Pritzker signed a massive clean energy bill into law Wednesday, saving the nuclear fleet in Illinois and starting the process to decarbonize the state’s energy sector. Sponsors say it also ensures communities of color have an important role in clean energy moving forward.
Advocates and lawmakers say they’re proud to see Illinois move towards 100% clean energy by 2050. They emphasized that it is possible to address jobs and climate change at the same time.
Saving nuclear jobs, making the air cleaner, and investing in renewable jobs for the future – a large task for any state. But, Pritzker met his final campaign promise to make Illinois a model for clean energy.
“With economic growth and jobs woven into its fabric, this new law is the most significant step Illinois has taken in a generation toward a reliable, renewable, affordable, and clean energy future,” Pritzker said.
Negotiations on the energy plan hit a standstill in May and some worried the bill was dead for 2021. However, legislative leaders kept working through the summer to bring Democrats, Republicans, labor, and environmental groups to an agreement.
“Yes, I believe in the impossible,” said Speaker Emanuel “Chris” Welch. “The impossible does become possible when we all work together.”
All private coal and oil electric plants must reach zero emissions by 2030. Larger municipal plants – including the Prairie State Energy Campus in the Metro East and CWLP’s Dalman 4 in Springfield – will close by 2045 unless they reach zero carbon emissions.
The new law creates a Bill of Rights for workers needing state support once fossil fuel plants close. This law also invests over $300 million into a Coal to Solar program to help communities impacted by closures. The state will also provide funds for scholarships to children of displaced workers.
Meanwhile, the plan gives Exelon $694 million over the next five years to save the state’s nuclear fleet. This includes the Byron and Dresden facilities that faced a dire situation with thousands of jobs on the line.
“With the governor’s signature of Senate Bill 2408, we ensure that our state’s nuclear fleet will stay online,” said Sen. Sue Rezin (R-Morris). “Thousands of jobs and the tax revenue that they provide won’t be lost.”
A major portion of this law is ensuring equity in the energy sector. It creates a clean jobs workforce network to help people in Black and brown communities start clean energy careers. There’s also a jobs and environmental justice grant program to put funds upfront to help community ownership and development of renewable projects.
Creating new energy jobs and opportunities for wealth in underrepresented communities
Elevate Energy COO Delmar Gillus said the equity provisions in the clean energy bill sets Illinois apart from other states. He explained local organizations can receive capital investments to install solar in their community.
“It means that Rev. Tony Pierce in Peoria has access to the prime contractor program that will provide underserved contractors the resources they need to become lead contractors that create jobs in their communities,” Gillus said.
He also noted people can receive job training and proper tools to work in the clean energy industry.
This law also eliminates online payment fees for utility bills. In addition, the measure creates new consumer protections to ensure utility companies don’t act unethically.
Senate Bill 2408 creates an ethics and compliance monitor for utilities to ensure the companies meet the highest ethical standards. It also requires the Illinois Commerce Commission to investigate whether customers should receive refunds following ComEd’s involvement in the years-long bribery scheme. All lawmakers must also document if their spouse or other family members work for a public utility company.
People could also receive a $4,000 rebate for purchasing an electric vehicle in Illinois. It’s part of the state’s goal to reach 1,000,000 cleaner vehicles by 2030. The law also requires utility companies to file plans with the Commerce Commission to support the rapid deployment of electric vehicles and proper infrastructure across the state. That could significantly help portions of Central and Southern Illinois lacking charging stations.
Biden administration recognizes Illinois
“Preserving our existing fleet of nuclear reactors, adopting more clean and renewable energy, and incentivizing sales of electric vehicles are all key components of President Biden’s Build Back Better agenda and essential to reaching our nation’s bold climate goals,” said U.S. Secretary of Energy Jennifer Granholm. “Thanks to the leadership of Gov. Pritzker and legislators, Illinois will keep a number of nuclear power plants online – preserving thousands of good-paying jobs – all while showing just what bold state-level action can do to usher in the clean energy future.”
Senate President Don Harmon told Pritzker the Senate wanted to send him the most aggressive and progressive climate bill in the nation. Harmon explained this law is a comprehensive policy that each chamber spent years on.
“Our goal all along was to enact reliable, renewable, and affordable energy policies that put Illinois in a position to lead the nation. That’s exactly what we’re doing here today,” Hamon said.
Reliable energy for the future
The law also calls for the Illinois Environmental Protection Agency, Illinois Power Agency, and Commerce Commission to conduct an energy reliability study every five years. Sponsors hope this could alleviate concerns from downstate lawmakers worried their districts won’t have enough energy. Some Republicans argued wind, solar, and renewable options won’t bring nearly enough energy to their regions. They stressed Illinois will need to import coal power from neighboring states to meet the demand. However, this provision of the law ensures renewable generation and battery storage have gone up before the state closes fossil fuel plants.
Sen. Mike Hastings (D-Tinley Park) said the state needed to take bold action to help future generations and set the national model for others to follow. He noted the General Assembly refused to settle and accept anything but the best for the clean energy future.
“We have increased high heat days, we have increased global carbon emissions. We have increased extreme weather events,” Hastings said. “Our world is changing and inaction would be an injustice for all of us. That’s why I’m very proud of this piece of legislation. Not only was it collaborative, but it focuses on what matters most to the people of Illinois.”
Labor and environmental groups celebrate a victory
The law requires all employers in the energy sector to meet new diversity hiring standards. It also states clean energy projects need contract labor agreements to get union workers on the job. Unions that took part in the energy negotiations are excited about the future. Climate Jobs Illinois CEO Joe Duffy said this is the most pro-worker, pro-climate legislation in the country.
“We’re eager to get our members to work building a clean energy economy that will reverse generations of carbon emissions and build a pathway to the middle class for new generations of highly trained, homegrown workers from historically disinvested communities,” Duffy said.
Environmental groups that worked to get the bill across the finish line also celebrated the plan becoming law. The Illinois Clean Jobs Coalition said the law protects public health from pollution and provides a just transition for communities that depend on fossil fuels.
“The wait is over, but our work is not,” the coalition stated. “We look forward to collaborating on the implementation of this comprehensive climate and equitable jobs plan to ensure that no one is left behind on Illinois’ path to a 100% clean energy future.”
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