PI Original Ellyn Fortino Monday February 9th, 2015, 5:08pm

New 'Clean Jobs' Coalition To Push For Stronger Illinois Energy Targets

Environmental and business groups launched an "Illinois Clean Jobs Coalition" last week as part of a push for new statewide standards around energy efficiency and renewable energy. Progress Illinois takes a look at the coalition's goals.

Environmental and business groups launched an "Illinois Clean Jobs Coalition" last week as part of a push for new statewide standards around energy efficiency and renewable energy.

Chicago Mayor Rahm Emanuel, State Sen. Don Harmon (D-Oak Park) and State Rep. Elaine Nekritz (D-Northbrook) are among the elected officials who have thus far thrown their support behind the newly-formed coalition, which is pushing for the state's 2025 energy efficiency target to be increased. Specifically, the group wants the reduction target for electricity consumption in Illinois to be bumped up to 20 percent from the current goal of 13 percent by the year 2025.

At the same time, the coalition is calling for changes to the state's Renewable Portfolio Standard (RPS) to boost the share of power that Illinois gets from naturally renewable sources, including wind and solar, to 35 percent by 2030. Currently, the RPS requires the state to obtain at least 25 percent of its energy from renewable sources by 2025.

Combined, these coalition-backed reforms would result in the annual creation of 32,000 new jobs in the state after their implementation, leaders with the effort say. Of those projected annual job gains, an estimated 25,000 jobs would be tied to energy efficiency investments, according to the coalition, also backed by several labor groups. In the city of Chicago specifically, the two proposals would mean about 5,000 new jobs annually. Some 100,000 people already work in Illinois' clean energy industry.

"This diverse coalition is all the more proof that going green is not a zero sum game. Instead, it is a win-win for our environment and our economy," Emanuel said in a statement. "We are proving here in the city of Chicago that adopting a clean energy strategy is good for the environment, good for business, good for jobs and good for our economic future."

As part of its list of "key principles," the coalition also supports "market-based strategies" to cut carbon emissions in the state, such as cap and trade and carbon tax policies.

The coalition is comprised of a number of environmental groups as well as energy efficiency, wind and solar power firms. The Citizens Utility Board, a consumer advocacy group, is also a member.

The colaition launched the same week as Republican Gov. Bruce Rauner gave his first State of the State address, in which he stressed the importance of boosting job growth and making Illinois more competitive.

In a blog post on its website, the Natural Resources Defense Council noted that the goals endorsed by the Illinois Clean Jobs Coalition "could help make (Rauner's) wish come true."

"NRDC is a proud member of the coalition -- and we think that looking at the state's energy economy is the perfect place to start to realize Gov. Rauner's goal of making Illinois competitive," wrote NRDC policy advocate Nick Magrisso.

In its announcement of the clean jobs initiative, the coalition pointed out that before Rauner took office, he expressed support around "expanded energy efficiency, restructuring the RPS, and 'increasing investment in clean energy.'"

The coalition's launch also comes as state lawmakers gear up for new carbon emission regulations as part of the "Clean Power Plan" proposed by the Environmental Protection Agency (EPA) in June. States are given flexibility under the EPA's proposed regulations to meet carbon standards.

"The recently proposed Clean Power Plan offers the state of Illinois an opportunity to modernize our energy infrastructure and scale up Illinois' clean energy economy," Magrisso added in the NRDC post. "The tools that would be used to realize the goals of that plan also spawn investments that not only power our state, but clean our skies and improve the health of our communities."

Illinois has an EPA target of reducing power-plant carbon emissions by 33 percent from 2012 levels by 2030. The EPA is scheduled to issue its finalized regulations for existing power plants in June 2015, and states would be required to turn in implementation plans by the following year.

"Illinois is at an energy crossroads," said Jack Darin, director of the Sierra Club of Illinois, a coalition member. "The question is: do we settle for the current energy system that struggles to meet new EPA clean energy standards, regularly raises rates on customers and fails to create new jobs? Instead, we can move decisively toward a cleaner, more reliable and affordable energy future that leaves a healthier environment for future generations--and creates tens of thousands of new jobs across Illinois."

Nearly half of the state's electricity currently comes from nuclear sources, followed by coal, natural gas and renewables.

The Chicago-based nuclear giant Exelon, which is not involved with the coalition, maintains that its low-emission nuclear plants will be central to Illinois' compliance with the new EPA carbon rules.

But Exelon has warned that three of its six Illinois nuclear plants are struggling financially, and the company might have to shut them down prematurely if state measures are not put in place to help boost the supposedly unprofitable facilities.

If the plants close, the company argues that Illinois would have a hard time complying with the carbon reduction goal set by the EPA. Coalition members don't buy that argument, contending that Illinois could hit its target through increased energy efficiency and renewable energy efforts.

Additionally, the coalition stressed in a news release that Exelon has indicated "that it may seek as much as $580 million from ratepayers" to stabilize its Illinois nuclear fleet "without any plans to create new jobs."

Read Progress Illinois' previous coverage of the possible Exelon plant closures here and here.

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