A year ago, the Future Energy Jobs Act (FEJA) passed Illinois’s House and Senate with bipartisan support and was signed into law by Governor Bruce Rauner. The landmark energy law gained strong support from both sides of the political aisle because the Act secured Illinois’ position as a leader in a booming clean energy economy. Although Illinois is in the early stages of implementing FEJA, there are some major obstacles that could undermine Illinois’ clean energy future.
Dynegy Inc., which is being acquired by another Texas-based energy giant, is making a concerted effort to squeeze profit from uncompetitive coal plants in central and southern Illinois by using its political clout. In addition to backing a bailout of their Illinois coal plants through legislation, Dynegy is steering Illinois Environmental Protection Agency leadership to relax pollution rules that would make their plants more attractive to potential buyers. Although Dynegy’s legislative push received little support, the Rauner administration asked the Illinois Commerce Commission (ICC) to begin a resource adequacy study that will also result in what amounts to a bailout for Dynegy’s coal plants and a rate hike in central and southern Illinois.
Dynegy’s efforts to prop up uneconomic coal plants on the backs of ratepayers undermines the path towards clean energy that Illinois laid out starting with FEJA. Although we have yet to see the surge in renewable energy and energy efficiency jobs, the Act fixed the state’s broken Renewable Portfolio Standard and will pave the way for approximately 4,000 megawatts of new wind and solar throughout the state, which could power approximately 656,000 homes (based on SEIA national average of 1 megawatt of solar powers 164 homes). Plans for developing substantial wind and solar projects that will change the energy landscape of our state are in the works. Now is not the time to provide more profits to the lucrative Texas-based energy giant.
Illinois already leads the Midwest in the number of clean energy jobs—more than 119,000—and jobs in this sector grew six times faster than overall jobs in the state. Additionally, an analysis NRDC completed in June 2017 showed that if FEJA were fully implemented, the energy efficiency programs would save state residents up to 4 percent on average electricity bills in 2030. Energy efficiency investments could also generate up to 19,400 jobs and grow the economy by $2 billion dollars in 2030 alone. The benefits of clean energy are clear and have strong support across Illinois. We should not consider going in the opposite direction. We need more of the vision provided by FEJA and fewer rate hikes pushed by the coal industry that will only hurt Illinois.