Illinoisans likely won't see changes from the new energy bill for a few years
Illinois’ new energy law promises massive changes for communities across the state as it aims to eliminate carbon emissions from the energy sector by 2045.
It will take a few years before residents in the Metro East and across Illinois start to see some of the biggest effects of the Climate and Equitable Jobs Act, like the expansion of solar and other renewable energy sources and investments in workforce development.
One hiccup for expanding renewables came when subsidies under previous legislation dried up before the new energy bill was passed.
“There was a lot of money, discounts and programs that allowed for the installation of solar panels, solar farms on private and public property, and those programs had reached their limit,” said Mike Atty, United Congregations of Metro East executive director. “Those discounts were going away. Some of the programs were no longer funded.”
The energy legislation passed this year examines some of the past programs and will reinvest money into them, Atty said at a recent virtual town hall about the new law.
“Now we can expand solar and not be limited by prior legislation or the fact that funding for certain programs ran out,” he said.
But this lapse in incentives means Illinois’ solar industry will need time to ramp back up, said Sally Burgess, Sierra Club’s downstate organizer.
“It’s not going to be a major boom,” she said. “There’s all of this wonderful renewable energy that we’ve been promised, but we do know that we have coal plants going offline.”
Burgess expects to see one or two coal plants shutter in the next year.
Some of the other provisions in the new law, particularly those around workforce development, still need to be fleshed out, she said.
The new legislation commits resources to offer job training to people in communities that have been overburdened by pollution, Burgess said. She said there are plans for job hubs in Alton and East St. Louis, but many of the specifics still need to be worked out.
State Rep. Katie Stuart, D-Edwardsville, who voted for the bill, agreed and added that lawmakers still need to decide how to allocate about $200 million for workforce development.
“I don’t know the timeline on those dollars being released, and I still think there is some work to be done on exactly how those dollars will get released and their criteria,” she said.
Some parts of the new energy law will ramp up more quickly. Burgess expects a rebate of $4,000 per household for electric vehicles will be available as soon as July.
She added the more immediate issue for environmental organizations like hers is ensuring that state agencies implement the 950-page energy legislation as it was written.
“What are the pieces in there that we really need to be watching?” she said. “We’re doing what we need to do to better understand the legislation, even though we had a key role in writing it.”
Eric Schmid covers the Metro East for St. Louis Public Radio as part of the journalism grant program: Report for America, an initiative of The GroundTruth Project.