Not Just Another Climate Law: What Illinois' New Clean Energy Bill Means for You

Clean Energy Is Fueling the Equitable Environmental Movement. Illinois passed a climate bill to move to 100% clean energy by 2050, creating equitable jobs, aiding historically pollution-targeted and underserved communities, and paving the way for the rest of the country.

Published on: October 6, 2021

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Illinois just passed arguably the most equitable climate bill in the history of the United States, the Climate and Equitable Jobs Act (CEJA). It commits to 100% clean energy by 2050, promises new jobs in the clean energy sector (specifically, jobs that prioritize hiring people of color), and aims to close and clean up sources of fossil-fuel pollution in historically marginalized communities.

In other words, this is a massive leap forward for the equitable environmental movement.
 
It’s also an inspiring indication of what can happen when we combine our individual voices to drive lasting, collective change.
 
This groundbreaking bill is the product of three years of activism. A coalition of community, environmental, and religious activists held over 100 meetings and rallied thousands of people across Illinois. What started as a small group effort amounted to a historic, state-level climate bill, and that’s something we can all draw a lot of hope from — especially considering that just five years ago, the utility companies were the ones controlling the writing of Illinois’ major energy bill.
 
This clean energy achievement ties in beautifully with the theme of New York City’s Climate Week 2021, “getting it done.” The annual convention was an accurate representation of what we’re all feeling in the climate world. We’re tired of empty promises. We’re tired of corporations using things like carbon markets as a cop-out for investing in real change. We want to see world powers putting money in the right places while actually holding big polluters accountable. We want to see wealthy countries helping poorer countries build their climate resilience.
 
Much like NYC Climate Week 2021, the Illinois Clean Energy Bill “cuts the crap” in the world of climate finance. It outlines subsidies of $47 million per year (starting in 2024) to convert coal-fired and natural gas power plants into renewable energy facilities while providing $80 million per year to workforce development programs for traditionally disadvantaged communities.
 
But after a short celebration, even Illinois climate activists will be the first to tell you that this is only the first punch in the long fight against climate change.

What does Illinois’ historic climate bill mean?

Energy and Decarbonization
CEJA promises that renewable energy (which comprised only 11% of Illinois’ total energy in 2020) will comprise 40% by 2030, 50% by 2040, and 100% by 2050. It also means that Illinois will phase out its largest polluter, Prairie State, which is also the seventh-largest polluter in the nation.
 
Additionally, it reveals how much the politics and economics around coal have shifted since this law was unimaginable just five years ago. Very importantly, it will help expand the market for clean energy sources, leading to economies of scale that should eventually drive down clean energy costs for everyone.
 
Equitable Jobs
CEJA outlines 16 new workforce groups for historically underserved communities, training programs for previously incarcerated people to find jobs in the solar sector, and billions of dollars and thousands of good-paying jobs in renewable energy projects.
 
Clean Transportation
The bill also includes incentives for electrifying transportation, including a $4,000 rebate when residents purchase a new or used electric vehicle. It also highlights the need for EV coordination and equitable investments for electrifying transportation. Again, these ideas overlap with the discussion at the NYC Climate Week Conference, which covered the idea that cities like NYC need more EV chargers and discussed specific plans that could allow power grids in densely populated cities to handle this.
 
Momentum
CEJA sets a standard by establishing a meaningful decarbonization plan in Illinois — without loopholes. It highlights the power of the community voice and shows us that states can be more reliable in implementing climate policy than the federal government.
 
This also means that the Illinois community will need to hold their public officials accountable and ensure they’re sticking to the promises outlined in this law.

Which other states are on the same path?

Illinois has now joined several states that set timelines to become 100% carbon-free and/or transition to renewable electricity. For example:
 

  • California has a target of 100% clean energy by 2045.
  • Hawaii has a target of 100% renewable energy by 2045.
  • New Mexico has a target of 100% clean energy by 2045.
  • New York has a target of 100% clean energy by 2040.
  • Rhode Island has a target of 100% renewable energy by 2030.
  • Virginia has a target of 100% clean energy by 2045.
  • Washington has a target of 100% clean energy by 2050.
  • Washington D.C. has a target of 100% renewable energy by 2032.

 
You can see a full list by the Clean Energy State Alliance which includes targets for clean energy, renewable energy, and net-zero emissions.
 
Note: Renewable energy refers to energy derived from naturally replenishable sources (e.g. wind and solar). Clean energy includes all zero-carbon energy sources. Net-zero emissions energy sources still allow for fossil fuels, as long as the emissions are net zero.

How can you fuel the momentum?

If you reside in one of the states with timelines listed above, hold your state representatives accountable. For example, in Illinois, you can do so by joining or supporting groups like the Illinois Environmental Council, Blacks In Green, Vote Solar, and Advanced Energy Economy to stay up to date on news, participate in local events, spearhead bills like CEJA, and promote overall progress in this space.
 
If you reside outside of these states, draw inspiration from activist groups like the ones that brought CEJA to life, and start the process in your own state! We recommend starting by understanding your own state’s energy policies, programs, and financial incentives. You can do so by visiting this roster of State Energy Offices and Organizations.
 
On top of that, you can join local or national environmental justice organizations and groups that advocate for clean energy. Specifically, the American Council on Renewable Energy hosts digital events that you can join from anywhere! Please note that some events are free to join while others include an admissions fee. Alternatively, you can create your own local activist groups just like the citizens that championed CEJA in Illinois.
 
Especially if you’re a professional in the clean energy sector, we encourage you to use your networks to form community groups and continue to educate the public on the importance of (and progress surrounding) clean and renewable energy.
 
As an organization that continuously pursues carbon neutrality and clean energy alternatives, we’re thrilled about the passing of CEJA, and we appreciate the work of the Illinois climate activists who made it possible. We can’t wait to see what the future holds.

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