Yes. 100 percent renewable energy by 2050 is ambitious but achievable
By KEVIN JAMES JR.
What makes a strong state? This is the question many states across the country are seeking to answer. I believe, the workforce is one of the many components. Illinois is at a crossroads. The state has a chance to invest in our workforce so that everyone can be part of the booming clean energy economy — an economy that is growing at a faster rate than the state’s overall jobs economy. Will we choose growth, progress and prosperity for our generation and our children’s generation? Will we choose healthy air and water? Will we make Illinois a leader?
As we explore the promise of a clean energy economy, it’s important for us first to understand the state of energy in Illinois and in our nation:
In Illinois, the Future Energy Jobs Act passed with bipartisan support and when Gov. Bruce Rauner signed it into law in 2016, it became the biggest clean energy breakthrough in Illinois history, creating thousands of jobs in every part of Illinois, saving consumers money on their bills, and taking action to protect our air and water.
At the national level, our federal government is in the process of rolling back pollution controls on coal plants that generate electricity.
And, in the midst of all of this, the CEO of Dynegy-Vistra Energy, one of Illinois’ largest power generators and owner of several coal plants that generate electricity in Central and Southern Illinois, went on CNBC in April 2018 and said, “I think [coal is] on its way out. I know that others may not like that, but I do believe it’s on its way out.”
So, what do we do? Do we stand up for communities throughout Illinois in the face of polluter-friendly policies from the federal government? Do we stand up for working people in Illinois so they are not left behind as the national and local economies move to clean energy?
Certainly, The Illinois Clean Jobs Coalition believes so. Dozens of state legislators think so. Communities throughout the state that provided feedback and input during more than 60 listening sessions believe so.
In fact, those sessions and the feedback helped inform the proposed Clean Energy Jobs Act, a detailed piece of legislation that’s rooted in equity.
There are four key pillars that lift up the Clean Energy Jobs Act: expanding jobs and the economy throughout the state, especially to communities that need them most; removing the equivalent of 1 million gas and diesel power vehicles from the road by moving to electric vehicles and mass transit; de-carbonizing the power sector by 2030; and putting Illinois on a path to 100 percent renewable energy by 2050.
The bill is ambitious but achievable. Gov. JB Pritzker has already committed to putting Illinois on a path to 100 percent renewable energy by 2050 and so have legislators throughout the state.
The Future Energy Jobs Act accomplished a lot when it became law two years ago, including putting us on a path to reach 25 percent renewable energy by 2025. Right now, we are at 8 percent and the Clean Energy Jobs Act rapidly ramps up renewable energy development so we can actually hit that 25 percent by 2025, get to around 45 percent by 2030, and put Illinois on the track we need to get to 100 percent by 2050.
This legislation would build more than 40 million solar panels and 2,500 wind turbines across Illinois by 2030, generating more than $30 billion in new infrastructure. It will spur enough new wind and solar development to power more than 4 million homes; more than 4 times what we were able to accomplish under FEJA. The bottom line: We will never be in a position to get to 100 percent by 2050 unless we rapidly start ramping up renewable energy today.
States around the country are starting to find that the cost to develop renewables, and renewables plus storage, actually beat out the costs of other types of generation and, in many cases, the cost of existing power plants.
To put it simply, we are overpaying today to send money to polluting power plants we don’t need and we don’t want. By prioritizing the money we already spend for power on a long-term plan to dramatically scale up renewable energy, we can achieve this rapid growth at a lower cost for consumers.
This is a pivotal moment for Illinois when it comes to the issue of energy policy. This is our chance to build on the success of the Future Energy Jobs Act and commit to the people of Illinois and our state’s economy.
And so, the question isn’t whether renewable energy is possible or not. It is possible. The question is: Does Illinois simply sit back? Or, do we move forward boldly? Do we settle for an outdated system that, for a variety of reasons, still comprises of dirty energy that Illinoisans often pay too much for and that pollutes our air and water? Or, do we embrace new technologies and recognize new market forces to give us an energy system that is cleaner, costs less and delivers jobs and economic opportunity to every part of the state?
We are the deciding factor. Let Illinois lead the way in Clean Energy Jobs. This is our time to build for a brighter and healthier future. We deserve it. Our families deserve it. The future of Illinois deserves it.
Rev. J. Kevin James Jr., M.Div., is senior pastor of Macedonia Baptist Church of East St. Louis.