The New Year Is a New Opportunity for Illinois

The climate progress we made in 2015 is poised for action in 2016, and Illinois has an abundance of opportunity at its finger tips that will have huge benefits for its economy, communities and environment - but only if it takes the necessary steps to usher in what is expected to be a transformational change in how we produce and use electricity.

To put the magnitude of this historic change in perspective, take the U.S. auto industry. In the last decade alone, the American auto industry evolved from producing and selling a record number of gas-guzzling, pollution emitting SUV's to highly fuel efficient hybrid-electric cars. These new cars have allowed the U.S. to not only keep pace with demand and new federal standards that limit gas consumption, but surge in auto sales that made 2015 the best year in history for the American auto industry, which was teetering on the edge of bankruptcy not more than a few years prior. The moral of the story is that change is not only possible for huge iconic industries such as the auto industry that were the backbone of many local economies for nearly a century, but change can also bring new opportunities that can reshape our nation's economy, our lives and the way we do business.

The storied auto industry can serve as an analogy of the kind of ingenuity and transformation the electric industry is on the cusp of undergoing. 2015 was a big year. From the historic international Paris climate agreement, to Pope Francis's climate change encyclical, to the introduction of the Illinois Clean Jobs Bill that garnered support from 300 coalition partners and a majority of bipartisan Illinois lawmakers who signed on to the legislation in 2015 as cosponsors -- 2016 is poised to be an even bigger year for climate and energy policy and an industry that is in the throes of a transformation.

Here's a brief description of two worlds that could be viewed as analogous to the evolution of the auto industry:

  1. A world where we continue to do business the way we have for over a century by relying on fossil fuels to generate electricity from centralized power plants that pollute the air we breathe, which harms our health and irreversibly warms the only planet; or

  1. Continue to lower our demand for electricity by adopting smarter technologies while turning every home and business, farm and field, into its own source of distributed power that harnesses the sun and wind as limitless sources of fuel and stems the tide of climate change.

If you are a utility executive, an investor, a politician, or a citizen, which world do you believe best represents the future?

Over the past seven years of Obama's presidency his administration steadily took steps to advance the future that offers greater opportunity to the American People, economy and environment. His climate and energy achievements are significant and impressive, but among them is the more recently finalized Clean Power Plan rule from U.S. Environmental Protection Agency (EPA). The rule, for the first time, limits carbon pollution from power plants and gives states the flexibility to cut their emissions and usher in the benefits of a clean energy economy. The Clean Power Plan puts states in the driver's seat allowing them to write their own plan based on works for their unique set of circumstances.

In Illinois, the Clean Jobs Coalition has been making the case for more than a year that the Illinois Clean Jobs Bill is the best path to reducing carbon emissions and achieving the goals of the Clean Power Plan - all while creating an additional 32,000 jobs.

The Illinois Clean Jobs Bill is turnkey legislation that would reduce demand for electricity by expanding the state's utility's investment in energy efficiency products and services that would cut demand by 20% by 2025. Further, the bill would fix policy barriers to the renewable portfolio standard (RPS) that was passed in 2007 and expand the amount of power that comes from wind and sun to 35% by 2030 from the current standard of 25% by 2025. Lastly, the bill would encourage the Illinois EPA to use the market to cut carbon pollution under the Clean Power Plan and reinvest any new market proceeds back into clean energy, which would have even bigger pollution reduction, job creation and consumer savings benefits. The Clean Jobs bill is not the only way to meet the federal standards, but it's the best path to not only reach the goals, but create 32,000 jobs and 1.6 billion dollars in consumer savings.

If the IL General Assembly is looking for an easy New Year's Resolution they can cross off their list, this bipartisan bill with a majority of support would be an easy win for everyone.

Governor Rauner will be a key player in 2016 in deciding if, when and how the state can meet the Clean Power Plan. The Illinois EPA is under Rauner's authority and they are the agency solely responsible for meeting the new federal standards. While the state has some unavoidable problems that it must face, the Clean Power Plan doesn't have to be one of those challenges. For now, the state is notably silent from stating its intentions or convening stakeholders and technical experts who are required to provide feedback to ensure adequate public participation and input were sought. While understandably the dire fiscal challenges, the lack of a state budget, and the notable concerns over police reforms will continue to take center stage, ushering in a clean energy economy should be a no brainer for Governor Rauner and the Illinois General Assembly because so many across the state from business owners to families have already expressed their support for cleaner air for their children and are ready to embrace a clean energy future.

New Year's resolutions are often made on January 1 and quickly abandoned because they are too difficult or easy to forget. Illinois can easily cross this off the to-do list this year: pass the Illinois Clean Jobs Bill, chart the state's path in meeting the Clean Power Plan, and ensure that Illinois maximizes all the benefits of a critical sector of our economy that's going through a period of transformational change that brings with it tangible benefits in the form of new jobs and utility bill savings.

The days of horse and carriage are behind us and our old energy policies should be too. The New Year is a new opportunity for Illinois and the nation; we just need our leaders to make it happen.