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BREAKING: Illinois House passes nation-leading clean energy legislation

The Illinois House late Thursday passed the Climate and Equitable Jobs Act (Senate Bill 2408)–historic, comprehensive clean energy legislation. The legislation now heads to the Senate on Monday for a final vote. (Urge your senator to say YES to this legislation.)

SB 2408 passed 83-33 in the House. The Illinois Clean Jobs Coalition, of which CUB is a member, called the legislation the most equitable clean energy jobs bill in the nation. It puts Illinois on a path to 100 percent clean energy while implementing utility ethics reforms and expanding energy efficiency to historic levels. With a nation-leading focus on equity, the bill aims to provide a spark to the economy by bringing thousands of clean energy jobs to communities that need it the most.

“If we don’t make a sincere effort to address climate change now, it will become a bigger and bigger threat, not only to our health but also our utility bills,” CUB Communications Director Jim Chilsen said. “It takes a lot of planning and hard work to find least-cost, consumer-friendly ways to fight climate change and that’s what this bill is trying to do. There’s a lot more work to do overall to fight energy burden and climate change, but this is a big step in the right direction.”

House passage of the Climate and Equitable Jobs Act is a major milestone in a campaign that began more than three years ago, as the Clean Jobs Coalition–made up of consumer and environmental advocates–met with residents across Illinois to learn their thoughts and priorities concerning energy. (CUB traveled the state helping to hold these “Listen. Lead. Share” events.)

Over the last two years, advocates wanting to pass a bill weathered delays caused by the pandemic and resistance from the fossil fuel industry. The effort to pass a strong energy bill intensified in the summer of 2020. That’s when ComEd was caught by federal prosecutors in a corruption scandal over its attempts to pass energy legislation that allowed it to secure hundreds of millions of dollars in rubber-stamped rate hikes (formula rates).

After multiple attempts since May to pass strong legislation, a comprehensive bill (SB 18) passed the Illinois Senate on Sept. 1. While there was broad agreement on most of SB 18’s provisions, there were still key issues to be resolved in the House. That included a timeline for coal-fired power plants, like the municipally owned Prairie State facility in Southern Illinois and Springfield’s Dallman plant, to ratchet down their emissions for the next several years before being carbon-free by 2045.

As we have reported before, failure is not an option. We have to pass comprehensive energy legislation, and here are a few reasons why:

  • grim report from the United Nations stressed that the world must begin now to move away from dirty energy in order to prevent the most catastrophic effects of climate change. CUB’s own research shows that not only is climate change a health threat, but it also could lead to billions of dollars in higher power bills if we do nothing. “Our climate cannot wait,” House Speaker Emanuel Chris Welch said on the House floor Thursday night. “Climate change is going to cost us more if we don’t act now.”
  • Money to support clean, affordable solar power has dried up. The Chicago Sun-Times reported that after a state incentive program ran out of money last year, just 313 small rooftop solar projects were completed statewide in the three-month period ending June 30. That’s compared with 2,908 a year earlier.  Solar had been booming in Illinois, but stumbled after these incentives from an earlier law, the Future Energy Jobs Act, ran out.
  • Exelon’s subsidiary, ComEd, has been under a cloud of scandal, giving the state an unprecedented opportunity to pass utility accountability reforms.

Gov. J.B. Pritzker says he will sign the Climate and Equitable Jobs Act. He has made it clear he wants to pass an equitable climate bill that would make Illinois a national leader in helping communities that have suffered the most from dirty energy—including Black and Brown communities, lower-income towns and those abandoned by the coal industry—make the transition to a clean energy economy. That means more clean energy businesses and jobs for the state as it recovers from COVID-19.

In addition, CUB sees these provisions as a step forward for Illinois consumers. The Climate and Equitable Jobs Act would:

  • Launch a responsible plan to fight climate change and work toward a zero-carbon power grid by 2045. The latest plan takes care of  a sticking point in the negotiations, requiring the Dallman and Prairie State coal plants to follow pollution reduction targets before cutting their carbon pollution by 100 percent by 2045.
  • Revive the solar energy market, which had been booming before its funding ran out.
  • Replaces the unfair ComEd and Ameren formula-rate system with one that provides more oversight by the Illinois Commerce Commission (ICC), emphasizing cost-effectiveness and customer affordability.  The ComEd corruption scandal is tied to legislation it pushed that has led to hundreds of millions of dollars in formula rate hikes for Illinois consumers over the last decade.
  • Create an independent ethics monitor at the Illinois Commerce Commission (ICC) to rein in utilities. Also, require ComEd and Ameren to have an ethics compliance officer at their headquarters.
  • Pave the way for cleaner, more affordable electric transportation options. (For example, legislation aims to put 1 million electric vehicles on Illinois roadways, and encourages large vehicles such as buses and delivery trucks to go electric.) The legislation also encourages smart charging that reduces costs for consumers and the power grid in general.
  • Expand energy efficiency programs that have already helped lower energy bills by billions of dollars.