Mindful Metropolis September 2011 : Page 17

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 prop-erty 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 so-lar panels, and the solar system’s benefits and payments are transferred to the new owner. 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? We can and should put environmental prog-ress and economic development together. The old false myth of jobs versus the envi-ronment 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 poli-ticians. I look forward to a less contentious time with more bipartisan support for smart public policies that improve our environ-ment, create jobs and spur economic growth. 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? 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? Illinois has a strong renewable energy stan-dard in law, but we need to make sure that the wind power and solar energy procure-ment work smoothly and effectively with the Illinois Power Agency. There is a terrific opportunity to grow solar energy develop-ment in Illinois—both with large commer-cial projects, as well as distributed solar on rooftops of homes and businesses delivering clean power and supporting grid reliabil-ity. 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 fed-eral 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. In your post-election strategies statement in April, you mentioned that the biggest challenges to envi-ronmental 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? There is still plenty of work to be done edu-cating the public and politicians on the eco-nomic value of solar energy, both in terms of power production and job creation. Solar is more expensive than other types of gen-eration at this point, but prices are drop-ping 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 sun-light 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. We also need to prove to the public and pol-iticians that solar installations bring jobs. Our report ( elpc.org/ilenergy ), listing the 96 solar companies now working in Illinois, will help. 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 ). While money certainly talks, another big part of the equation is, of course, 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 ac-tively fighting the effort with the help of lob-byists 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. What else can readers do to support a clean energy future in Illinois? 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, gover-nors 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 challeng-ing time. Let’s step up and help make the changes that are needed. Freelance writer Daisy Simmons is always on the lookout for interesting, positive Chicago news. Got any stories you’d like to share? Drop her a line at daisysimmons.com. The federal and state budget crises are hit-ting environmental and public health pro-grams hard, and environmental progress, unfortunately, has been an ideological and partisan target for some Republican politi-cians. That’s sad, and it betrays longstanding bipartisan political support for the Clean Air Act, Clean Water Act and other environ-mental and public health programs that have produced healthier communities for all of us. mINDFULmetrOpOLIs.COm 17

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