Mindful Metropolis September 2011 : Page 16

one on one THE STATE OF RENEWABLE ENERGY IN ILLINOIS ELPC Executive Director Howard Learner talks about the state’s progress on clean energy INTERVIEW BY DAISY SIMMONS our years ago, on August 28, 2007, Rod Blagojevich signed into law renewable energy and effi ciency standards that the Environmental Law and Policy Center (ELPC) dubbed “among the most ambitious in the nation.” e bills required Illinois utilities to supply 10 percent of their power from re-newable energy sources by 2015 and to reduce overall electric usage by 2 percent by 2015. Now, halfway through the eight-year march to 2015, many of us are wondering just how far we’ve come toward achieving these goals. We decided to get an inside perspective on clean energy progress in the state from How-ard Learner, executive director of the ELPC, a nonprofi t that’s working on clean energy de-velopment in the region from its newly LEED-certifi ed headquarters in Chicago. F Since the clean energy legislation passed in 2007, have we been mak-ing necessary progress, and are we on track to fulfi ll its requirements? We’re doing well, but of course we can and must do better. Illinois is on track to achiev-ing 25 percent renewable energy as part of the electricity supply by 2025, but the more progress—and sooner—creates more jobs, more economic growth and better environ-mental quality and cleaner air for everyone. We are meeting Illinois’ renewable goals, and the vast majority of this renewable energy has come from inside Illinois. Since 2007 we’ve put over 2,000 megawatts of wind in the ground, resulting in $3 billion in investment, thousands of jobs and millions of megawatt hours of clean energy. We also have a solar “carve-out,” which requires that, by 2015, 6 percent of Illinois’ re-newable energy comes from solar power. In the next few years that carve-out will be sat-isfi ed through new utility-scale plants built in Illinois. We’ve done all of this development and investment with minimal impact on util-ity rates, proving that renewable energy is both economic and sustainable. So in terms of economic and sustain-able value, how would you describe the current range of renewable energy and retrofi t services in the area, and what are the opportunities and im-peratives for the future? move forward, but we’re largely missing the opportunities to grow the market for distributed solar equipment on homes and businesses. We need to get better policies in place and focus on growing the new busi-nesses operating in that sector. Energy effi ciency is the best, fastest, cheap-est way to address our pollution problems while saving residents and businesses money on their utility bills and creating jobs. ere’s so much low-hanging energy effi ciency fruit in many homes and commercial buildings in Il-linois that you can practically pick it up off the fl oor. ere are business, infrastructure and delivery challenges to capturing the energy ef-fi ciency savings that are clearly available. One key step: focus some of the federal, state and local job training programs on energy effi cien-cy audit and retrofi t skill building. Let’s train people for these jobs of the future and better seize the opportunities for energy effi ciency savings, both dollar and pollution reduction. You mention that we need better poli-cies for growing business in the solar sector. What kinds of improvements do you recommend? e ELPC’s recent Illinois Wind, Solar and Geothermal Supply Chain Report described the more than 250 clean energy businesses now operating in Illinois, creating jobs, growing our economy and advancing envi-ronmentally preferable renewable energy. Chicago has 13 corporate headquarters of major wind power companies—that’s more than in any other U.S. city. On solar, some large commercial projects are moving for-ward and good policies are beginning to e solar carve-out is a good fi rst step and will bring a lot of development in the next couple of years. We anticipate that the carve-out itself will require the installation of 600-700 MW of solar to meet the requirement. (We estimate that installation will create 5,000 direct job-years and 5,000 indirect or induced job-years). Much of that will be met through utility-scale solar plants. Policies that promote smaller scale ‘distributed generation’ solar projects would help more businesses and homeowners take advantage of solar energy. One way to do that is for the Illinois Power Agency to buy so-lar renewable energy credits (SREC), giving an additional monetary incentive to small-scale solar projects. Also, net metering is now only available 16 SEPTEMBER 2011

One On One: The State Of Renewable Energy In Illinois

Daisy Simmons

ELPC Executive director Howard Lerner talks about the state’s progress on clean energy<br /> <br /> Four years ago, on August 28, 2007, Rod Blagojevich signed into law renewable energy and efficiency standards that the Environmental Law and Policy Center (ELPC) dubbed “among the most ambitious in the nation.” The bills required Illinois utilities to supply 10 percent of their power from renewable energy sources by 2015 and to reduce overall electric usage by 2 percent by 2015.<br /> <br /> Now, halfway through the eight-year march to 2015, many of us are wondering just how far we’ve come toward achieving these goals. We decided to get an inside perspective on clean energy progress in the state from Howard Lerner, executive director of the ELPC, a nonprofit that’s working on clean energy development in the region from its newly LEEDcertified headquarters in Chicago.<br /> <br /> Since the clean energy legislation passed in 2007, have we been making necessary progress, and are we on track to fulfill its requirements?<br /> <br /> We’re doing well, but of course we can and must do better. Illinois is on track to achieving 25 percent renewable energy as part of the electricity supply by 2025, but the more progress—and sooner—creates more jobs, more economic growth and better environmental quality and cleaner air for everyone. We are meeting Illinois’ renewable goals, and the vast majority of this renewable energy has come from inside Illinois. Since 2007 we’ve put over 2,000 megawatts of wind in the ground, resulting in $3 billion in investment, thousands of jobs and millions of megawatt hours of clean energy. We also have a solar “carve-out,” which requires that, by 2015, 6 percent of Illinois’ renewable energy comes from solar power. In the next few years that carve-out will be satisfied through new utility-scale plants built in Illinois. We’ve done all of this development and investment with minimal impact on utility rates, proving that renewable energy is both economic and sustainable.<br /> <br /> So in terms of economic and sustainable value, how would you describe the current range of renewable energy and retrofit services in the area, and what are the opportunities and imperatives for the future?<br /> <br /> The ELPC’s recent Illinois Wind, Solar and Geothermal Supply Chain Report described the more than 250 clean energy businesses now operating in Illinois, creating jobs, growing our economy and advancing environmentally preferable renewable energy. Chicago has 13 corporate headquarters of major wind power companies—that’s more than in any other U.S. city. On solar, some large commercial projects are moving forward and good policies are beginning to move forward, but we’re largely missing the opportunities to grow the market for distributed solar equipment on homes and businesses. We need to get better policies in place and focus on growing the new businesses operating in that sector.<br /> <br /> Energy efficiency is the best, fastest, cheapest way to address our pollution problems while saving residents and businesses money on their utility bills and creating jobs. There’s so much low-hanging energy efficiency fruit in many homes and commercial buildings in Illinois that you can practically pick it up off the floor. There are business, infrastructure and delivery challenges to capturing the energy efficiency savings that are clearly available. One key step: focus some of the federal, state and local job training programs on energy efficiency audit and retrofit skill building. Let’s train people for these jobs of the future and better seize the opportunities for energy efficiency savings, both dollar and pollution reduction.<br /> <br /> You mention that we need better policies for growing business in the solar sector. What kinds of improvements do you recommend?<br /> <br /> The solar carve-out is a good first step and will bring a lot of development in the next couple of years. We anticipate that the carve-out itself will require the installation of 600-700 MW of solar to meet the requirement. (We estimate that installation will create 5,000 direct jobyears and 5,000 indirect or induced job-years). Much of that will be met through utility-scale solar plants. Policies that promote smaller scale ‘distributed generation’ solar projects would help more businesses and homeowners take advantage of solar energy. One way to do that is for the Illinois Power Agency to buy solar renewable energy credits (SREC), giving an additional monetary incentive to small-scale solar projects.<br /> <br /> Also, net metering is now only available for small solar systems, so businesses with larger systems don’t make money from the excess power they supply to the grid. We should make larger solar systems eligible for net metering. And we could grow solar power through PACE financing, which allows property owners to get low-interest loans from their municipality or county and pay back the loan through an extra assessment on their property taxes. With PACE financing, you can sell your home before you’ve paid off your solar panels, and the solar system’s benefits and payments are transferred to the new owner.<br /> <br /> As far as big picture energy policy, what should we expect in the near and long-term future as far as state and national renewable energy legislation?<br /> <br /> Illinois has a strong renewable energy standard in law, but we need to make sure that the wind power and solar energy procurement work smoothly and effectively with the Illinois Power Agency. There is a terrific opportunity to grow solar energy development in Illinois—both with large commercial projects, as well as distributed solar on rooftops of homes and businesses delivering clean power and supporting grid reliability. Other states are beginning to catch up to Illinois, and we want to succeed here in the competitive, growing renewable energy market. National policy advances on a federal renewable energy standard that would set a baseline floor of development for all states is stalled by partisan politics and coal industry opposition. The U.S. can’t afford to fall behind China and Europe as wind power and solar energy are the fastest growing part of the global energy economy.<br /> <br /> In your post-election strategies statement in April, you mentioned that the biggest challenges to environmental progress are state budget crises, ideological opposition, and the public’s focus on job creation versus environment. How much have these challenges set us back, and what do we need to do to overcome them?<br /> <br /> The federal and state budget crises are hitting environmental and public health programs hard, and environmental progress, unfortunately, has been an ideological and partisan target for some Republican politicians. That’s sad, and it betrays longstanding bipartisan political support for the Clean Air Act, Clean Water Act and other environmental and public health programs that have produced healthier communities for all of us. We can and should put environmental progress and economic development together. The old false myth of jobs versus the environment is simply that—false. Clean energy development creates jobs, high-speed rail development creates jobs, and safe drinking water and healthy air to breathe is a shared value. Here, the public is ahead of the politicians. I look forward to a less contentious time with more bipartisan support for smart public policies that improve our environment, create jobs and spur economic growth.<br /> <br /> Is there more we can do to help the public and our politicians fully grasp the scope of new job opportunities that can come from diversified energy sources?<br /> <br /> There is still plenty of work to be done educating the public and politicians on the economic value of solar energy, both in terms of power production and job creation. Solar is more expensive than other types of generation at this point, but prices are dropping rapidly and because it can be generated close to where it’s needed and because it produces power at peak times when power prices are highest, solar has a higher value than other types of power. Also since sunlight is free, we know what the fuel price will be for the next 20 years, whereas we cannot say the same thing for fossil-fuel power.<br /> <br /> We also need to prove to the public and politicians that solar installations bring jobs. Our report (elpc.org/ilenergy), listing the 96 solar companies now working in Illinois, will help.<br /> <br /> Vote Solar (votesolar.org) has some good resources on job creation potentials. The United Nations has some useful job creation statistics as well (unep.org).<br /> <br /> While money certainly talks, another big part of the equation is, of course, health. The Clean power Ordinance, which aims to reduce pollution from the Fisk and Crawford coal plants, was recently reintroduced in the Chicago City Council. What kind of support and opposition are you seeing?<br /> <br /> Thirty-five of Chicago’s 50 Aldermen are now cosponsors of the ordinance, more than the 26 votes needed to pass. The plants’ owner, Midwest Generation, has been actively fighting the effort with the help of lobbyists and PR firms, but the public and our city officials understand how important it is to protect the health of Chicagoans and fight climate change. Mayor Emanuel has been supportive of the ordinance’s goals and if we keep the public pressure on, we could see the ordinance pass in the next few months. Everyone in Chicago who cares about clean air should contact the mayor and his/her alderman and ask them to pass the Clean Power Ordinance.<br /> <br /> What else can readers do to support a clean energy future in Illinois?<br /> <br /> Step up and act. The public is ahead of our politicians, but some won’t know that unless they hear from all of us. Take time to reach out to your senators, representatives, governors and mayors. Join with many others in taking the smart “Take Action Now” steps that are highlighted on the Environmental Law & Policy Center’s website (elpc.org). We can and are achieving progress for a cleaner and healthier community at a very challenging time. Let’s step up and help make the changes that are needed.

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