Illinois Strikes Path To Midwest Solar Leadership

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Two years ago, Illinois legislators passed the Future Energy Jobs Act in an effort to transition the state from its fossil-fueled industrial past into a future where solar and wind created jobs, cleaned the environment and saved electric ratepayers money.

The goals envisioned by those lawmakers didn’t really come into focus until earlier this month, however, when the Illinois Public Utilities Commission approved the final version of the Long-Term Renewable Resources Procurement Plan.

Under the plan, the state committed to spending $180 million per year initially—eventually growing to $220 million per year—to support renewable energy. Specifically, the act supports three segments of solar development across the state: large-scale solar power, community solar and rooftop solar.

Supporters included members in all segments of Illinois’ energy economy — renewable advocates, utilities, energy efficiency groups, and environmentalists. They say the plan will preserve 4,200 jobs and stimulate $1.2 billion in economic activity in the state on an annual basis.

Based on 2016 data from National Solar Jobs Census conducted every year by The Solar Foundation, the solar industry created 1 in every 50 jobs in the U.S. economy in 2016.  As such, solar employment continues to solidify its standing as one of the most robust and powerful employment drivers in the U.S., providing citizens with well-paying jobs that can’t be outsourced.

With the passage of the plan, Illinois is guaranteeing both its current workers as well as future generations the opportunity to be on the cutting edge of energy employment.

And, while economics and job creation are reason enough to celebrate the PUC’s acceptance of the plan, there are some truly innovative aspects of the emerging Illinois solar market which have us excited.

First of all, the plan raises the state’s renewable portfolio standard (RPS), which requires utilities to get certain percentages of their electricity production from renewable sources. The legislature raised Illinois’ RPS to 25 percent by 2025. That means the legislators didn’t just have their eyes on short-term electoral gains but are committed to building a clean-energy infrastructure over a significant timeline, implying a long-term market opportunity for development and investment.

Secondly, the plan creates incentives to not only develop utility-scale solar or residential projects but also embraces the development strategy of community solar from small utility-connected solar assets. The community-solar concept is quickly gaining prominence as a preferred way to develop and supply power to offtakers. Community solar allows homeowners and business owners to buy power directly from solar projects that are not sited on their facilities or homes, allowing for a true democratization of solar access unconstrained by available land or south-facing roofs.

Finally, we also appreciate the carve-out the legislators made in the bill focusing on low-income communities. The plan commits the state to spend up to $750 million to give the most vulnerable Illinois citizens a chance to benefit from the clean energy buildout anticipated in Illinois.

As a national solar company, we are constantly looking for markets in which we can expand, and Illinois’ recent decisions have made it an even more attractive market than ever before — and one that has an opportunity to become the leading solar state in the Midwest.

We look forward to playing a role in making that solar future a reality in Illinois, and we applaud the PUC for its decision.

Lead image credit: U.S. Department of Energy | Public Domain | Flickr

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