Nick Magrisso, Policy Advocate, Midwest Program, Chicago
Last week two seemingly unconnected announcements were made that will likely cast a big shadow over the state of Illinois for some time. Wednesday, Governor Bruce Rauner gave his first State of the State address. In the speech he outlined Illinois’ grave economic position and repeatedly highlighted a desire to push new policies that will make the state more competitive and create jobs.
The same day, a new coalition was announced that could help make his wish come true: the Illinois Clean Jobs Coalition.
At events in Springfield and Chicago, this unprecedented coalition of business interests, organized labor, interfaith groups, consumer advocates, and environmental groups announced shared goals to embrace clean energy and new job creation under a united banner. NRDC is a proud member of the coalition–and we think that looking at the state’s energy economy is the perfect place to start to realize Governor Rauner’s goal of making Illinois competitive. The coalition believes that some key policy tweaks will open the job flood gates to the tune of 32,000 jobs annually!
And we are not alone.
In Chicago, Mayor Rahm Emanuel threw his support behind the coalition’s goals to grow the state and city’s economy by creating new jobs in the clean energy industry, saying it is a “win-win for our environment and economy.”
In Springfield I joined a similar announcement in the State Capitol with legislative leaders of the Illinois General Assembly, along with business partners and environmental colleagues who had a very similar message.
State Senator Don Harmon (D-Oak Park) summed up what was said by a labor leader from the buildings trades unions who stood at the Chicago event, saying, “This coalition is about three things – jobs, jobs, jobs.”
The immense job opportunities coming out of the clean energy sector are pretty easy to track. NRDC put out an employment audit last year with Clean Energy Trust, Environmental Entrepreneurs (E2), and the Environmental Law and Policy Center (ELPC) that showed the state currently has a massive clean energy work force, numbering over 100,000. That is more than the number of people employed in the state’s real estate and accounting sectors–combined. That is a ton, but there is oh-so-much more to be had: a recent Report from the Illinois Science and Technology Institute puts the number at 32,000/year.
But unlocking those jobs requires some policy fixes. Until then, we are falling behind. Just look at wind power. Two years ago, Illinois ranked second in new wind installations. Last year, we did not add anything. And it was just announced that Illinois was overtaken by Oklahoma in total wind power after that lull.
There’s a fix to this trend. The coalition is calling on the state to re-embrace renewables and energy efficiency as a jobs policy, as well as good environmental policy. If we realized the potential of robust energy efficiency and renewable energy standards, we could see the sort of growth predicted in the ISTI study.
The Illinois Clean Jobs Coalition proposing doing that in three ways:
- First, by “fixing” the Renewable Portfolio Standards (or “RPS”) to increase the share of power coming from renewable sources in Illinois, like wind and solar, to 35% by 2030.
- Second, increase energy efficiency standards to reduce overall electricity usage in Illinois by an accumulative 20% by 2025. Simply put, energy efficiency is the cheapest, cleanest form of energy we have; it’s the energy we don’t use. By retrofitting our homes, businesses, schools and hospitals with the latest energy efficient technologies (better insulation, newer windows and lighting, better/smarter systems for our heating, ventilation and cooling systems) just to name a few examples, we can accomplish the same amount of work and use less energy. That saves money on energy bills, cutting pollution from power plants and putting lots of people to work making and installing energy efficient measures.
- Third, it is time to pursue market-based strategies to reduce carbon pollution and shift toward cleaner energy; which will provide a healthier future for all Illinois families. The recently proposed Clean Power Plan offers the state of Illinois an opportunity to modernize our energy infrastructure and scale up Illinois’ clean energy economy. The tools that would be used to realize the goals of that plan also spawn investments that not only power our state, but clean our skies and improve the health of our communities.
The coalition has made clear, that now is the time to act – simply to keep pace with other states.
A cleaner and healthier environment; help for consumers; improved public health – and, tens of thousands of new jobs for Illinois each and every year. Those are the goals of the Illinois Clean Jobs Coalition, and those goals are within reach. And we think they are very much in line with the ones Governor Rauner laid out this week too.