Illinois Clean Jobs Legislation Changes the Springfield Power Paradigm

The Illinois legislature will adjourn its regular spring session at midnight on May 31, 2015 without advancing a measure that would create an estimated 32,000 new clean energy jobs across the State of Illinois once fully implemented; and save consumers a cumulative $1.6 billion on their electric bills, according to analysis by the Citizen Utility Board. That measure is the Illinois Clean Jobs Bill.

That is unfortunate news for the scores of businesses that were poised to invest millions in Illinois and to the many families that could have seen much needed relief on their utility bills. However, the session comes to an end by putting an exclamation point on the amount of support the Clean Jobs Bill garnered as the issue remains poised for action during the fall veto session.

The Clean Jobs Bill is backed by a coalition of more than 150 businesses, associations and consumer groups, environmental and faith-based organizations that are members of the Illinois Clean Jobs Coalition that includes Chicago Mayor Rahm Emanuel. The Clean Jobs Coalition picked up traction in Springfield on day one when State Senator Don Harmon and State Representative Elaine Nekritz introduced legislation that is estimated to unlock tens of thousands of new, good-paying jobs across the state.

At a press conference in February, Senator Harmon and Rep. Nekritz were joined by dozens of their colleagues eager to cosponsor policy that would create a comprehensive energy roadmap for new investment, new jobs and businesses as well as putting money back in consumers' wallets by increasing the use of energy efficiency, increasing the use of renewable energy, and by pursuing market-based strategies to reduce carbon pollution and create jobs. See my earlier blog to read more on the specifics of the Clean Jobs Bill here.

More jobs and saving consumers' money are clearly principles that lawmakers, businesses and many others can get behind. There were so many legislators eager to support the Clean Jobs Bill at the press conference on the first day that many of them simply could not fit behind the podium or into the room where the press conference was held in Springfield. That pattern continued all session as the Clean Jobs Bill consistently picked up new cosponsors despite the utilities pushing back and introducing competing legislation of their own.

It's easy to see how the conversation in Springfield could have devolved into a war of competing entrenched energy interests: nukes vs. coal, considering each make up a majority of the state's energy generation. Exelon promptly followed the introduction of the Clean Jobs Bill by introducing legislation that would prop up their money-losing nuclear plants by hiking rates on all Illinois energy consumers to keep nuclear plants open that Exelon has threatened to close.

The state's coal industry began making threats of their own to shutter coal-fired plants if Exelon's subsidy was passed. Fortunately, the public, legislators and newspaper editorial boards, saw through the muck and realized this was not a compelling argument: to hold a workforce hostage and use them as a bargaining chip for a large corporate bailout is entirely shortsighted and self-serving.

Thankfully, cooler heads prevailed and the focus in Springfield remains on jobs, consumers and our environment as support for the Illinois Clean Jobs Bill continues to pour in. And there is only one bill that delivers on all three - the Illinois Clean Jobs Bill.

Leaving session without passing the Clean Jobs Bill may feel like unfinished business, because it is. The legislature will likely be called back to Springfield this summer or will stay until they come to an agreement with the Governor on how resolve the state's crushing fiscal issues. Indeed, Illinois has its fair share of problems, none of which appear to be easily resolved. However, putting more Illinoisans to work, attracting new capital to the state and creating a market that spurs competition and innovation among clean energy entrepreneurs is precisely the shot in the arm that Illinois could use, and I haven't heard anyone suggest they would not support these goals.

Judging by the 26 sponsors in the Illinois Senate and 58 sponsors in Illinois's House (to pass a bill with simple majorities, it requires 30 votes in the senate and 60 in the house), legislators from both sides of the aisle seem to wholeheartedly embrace policies contained in the Clean Jobs Bill. Judging by his recent comments, "I am dedicated as governor to getting Illinois' economy booming, thriving and the key to it is innovation and technology development. We can be worldwide leaders in clean energy innovation and technology" - it seems clear that these are principles that Illinois Governor Bruce Rauner could get behind.

The summer offers ample time for more thoughtful discourse as the discussion continues in the state on how to rethink energy policy. The results from a much anticipated regional capacity auction will be known sometime over the summer and could prove to have a profound impact on Exelon's coveted bottom line. U.S.EPA's Clean Power Plan which places first-ever limits on carbon pollution from our electric sector is expected to be finalized sometime in July or August, and will trigger states' obligation to begin developing a plan to reduce their carbon emissions - a plan which gives states significant flexibility in how they choose to comply.

As Illinois faces many competing options to develop a state-based compliance plan (amidst a swarm of energy lobbyists circling the halls of the capitol chomping at the bit), the question remains: Which policy will maximize benefits to consumers, to our economy and to the environment? Which policy will lead to new job creation, offer new opportunities to a workforce across the state and equal opportunity for all Illinoisans? Which policy will put money back in consumers' wallets and help those that need it most, especially socioeconomically challenged and disadvantaged communities? Which policy will attract new capital and investment into the state; and spur innovation and competition to build the clean energy economy right here in Illinois?

The answer: the Clean Jobs Bill. It's the only bill that accomplishes all of these goals and it's a reason the future is bright for Illinois. Illinoisans across the state understand how this opportunity can bring our state into the clean energy future and we are ready to make it a reality.