Boosting Energy Efficiency for All Illinoisans

The state of Illinois has taken a huge leap forward for climate and clean energy policy with the enactment of the Future Energy Jobs Bill.

The state of Illinois has taken a huge leap forward for climate and clean energy policy with the enactment of the Future Energy Jobs Bill. This is an exciting victory for Illinois, one that will benefit owners and residents of affordable housing throughout the state.

Affordable housing residents, in particular those living in apartment buildings, have an acute need for increased energy investments and repairs in their homes. Affordable multifamily buildings alone make up 11% of the Illinois housing stock. Yet the affordable housing sector is often difficult to reach. Without programs that are specifically designed for this sector, low-income residents are forced to remain in unhealthy and unsafe living environments.

Affordable housing renters and owners also face extremely high energy costs. The American Council for Energy Efficiency (ACEEE), along with the Energy Efficiency for All Project (of which NRDC is a national partner), recently released a report focused on America’s high energy burden. In the report energy efficiency is identified as an underutilized strategy that could help reduce this problem.

Chicago-based Elevate Energy has a Multifamily Program that is proving the benefits of energy efficiency in affordable housing. This year the program helped Monica Chanda of Civic Project, LLC upgrade her three-story apartment building in Chicago’s Woodlawn neighborhood. Not only were Monica’s bills high (hitting $10,000 for just the month of January), the building also had dangerously high carbon monoxide levels. This 104-year-old building underwent a series of energy and safety improvements with the assistance of the program and its connection to the Community Investment Corporation’s low-interest loans. Monica’s Woodlawn building will experience a 40% reduction in bill costs, and save over $3000 annually from the work that was done.

It is critical to maintain the affordability of this type of housing. By doing so, low-income residents, like those in Monica’s building, are able to benefit from healthier, safer living environments, owners benefit from reduced operating expenses, utilities benefit from a reduction in bill payment issues, and communities benefit from reduced pollution and increased jobs.

The Illinois Energy Efficiency for All Coalition (EEFA) (part of the national EEFA project), consisting of members Elevate Energy, Community Investment Corporation, the Natural Resources Defense Council (NRDC), Citizens Utility Board (CUB), and the Midwest Energy Efficiency Alliance (MEEA), was designed to specifically tackle issues regarding low-income housing  in Illinois. The group has a mission to make Illinois multifamily housing healthier and more affordable through energy efficiency. Illinois EEFA members collaborated closely with the diverse 200-plus members of the Clean Jobs Coalition to ensure that low-income residents were included in the future of the Illinois energy landscape.

The Future Energy Jobs Bill includes increases in low-income energy efficiency funding. ComEd must spend at least $25 million per year and Ameren must spend at least $8.3 million per year on efficiency programs that target low-income households. This win for affordable housing residents and owners would not have been possible without EEFA coalition members originally proposing and advocating the inclusion of low-income energy efficiency. It also would not have been possible without bipartisan support from Illinois legislators.

The Illinois EEFA coalition members also helped gain the expansion of on-bill financing options for both single family and multifamily buildings. This allows homeowners to pay back the costs of home upgrades on their electric bill, giving more options for anyone looking to make home efficiency improvement.

In addition to energy efficiency, the policy reforms include a new Illinois Solar for All Program to prioritize new solar development and job training in economically disadvantaged communities. To learn more about all of the developments in the bill (including the state’s first community solar program) read the comprehensive blog written by my colleague Nick Magrisso (NRDC’s Midwest Legislative Director).

Overall, this legislation is an important leap forward for Illinois, and ensures a brighter future for the state’s low-income housing residents and owners.  

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