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Looking to the Future

The Illinois coal industry played a significant role in building our country during the industrial revolution, and until recently, coal was the dominant fuel used to produce electricity. But times have changed.

Today, Illinois communities are hard-hit by the closing of old, out-dated coal plants and reduced production and mechanization of the once-vibrant coal industry. Today, renewable energy – not coal – is one of the fastest growing sectors of our country’s economy.  Last year, the solar industry employed more Americans than coal (373,807 in solar as compared to 160,199 in coal), and wind power topped 100,000 jobs. These numbers come from a new report by the U.S. government And a 2016 report by Edward Louie and Joshua Pearce, Michigan Technology Institute, shows that modest investments in training per employee can help coal industry make the switch to solar. This same report also shows salaries in the solar industry compare favorably with coal (both mining and power plant), countering the myth that solar pays far less.

Can Illinois maintain its legacy as an energy producer by moving from coal to renewables? We think that it can, and here is why.

Future Energy Jobs Act – A Boom for Illinois

In December of 2016, the state legislature passed the Future Energy Jobs Act (FEJA) with bi-partisan support. It is one of the most comprehensive energy bills in the country. Here’s what the bill does:

  • Fixes the states flaws in the Renewable Portfolio Standard, ensuring stable and predictable funding for renewable energy.
  • Provides funding for building new solar and wind facilities ($200 million each year).
  • Creates the state’s first community solar program, that allows those not able to build solar on their roof the opportunity to subscribe to a shared project in their community.
  • Creates the Illinois Solar for All program, a comprehensive low-income solar deployment and job training program that will open up access to the soar economy for millions of low-income families.
  • Requires ComEd and Ameren to achieve reductions in energy use by 2030.
  • Requires $25 million per year to be spent on programs to help-low-income homes become more efficient.

Eco-Justice Collaborative, along with partners Prairie Rivers Network, The Illinois Environmental Council, Illinois Chapter of the Sierra Club, and Delta Institute, intends to help coal plant and coal mining communities access the resources of the FEJA and:

  • Help representatives think about positioning and staging themselves for a new economy that is not dependent on coal.
  • Listen to what communities need to make the transition.
  • Identify key questions communities should consider.
  • Help build community capacity, by identifying resources available to them from the FEJA; other funding sources; and support from state and local community development organizations.

How to Grow a New Energy Economy

Many communities in downstate Illinois are ready to diversify their economies, but their capacity to attract new businesses is often limited by strapped budgets, minimal staff, and access to resources.

Our team is ready to help. We plan to hold workshops in central and southern Illinois in this summer that will help communities move forward. Round #1 workshops will bring together experts that will explain the components of the Future Energy Jobs Act; highlight local opportunities in clean energy; identify opportunities for funding (both state and federal); and present workforce training programs and small business development assistance available from state agencies. The afternoon session has been designed to interactively help community representatives and leaders begin to think about possibilities and potential barriers to bringing solar, wind, energy efficiency, and carbon farming to their communities.

Round #2 will build on what we learn from Round #1 will most help community leaders take the next step.

Workshops – When and Where?

These workshops are open to mayors, county board members, economic development directors, and community leaders in downstate Illinois communities affected by job losses in the coal industry (power plant and mining). More information will be made available in the next few weeks, including registration. Anticipated costs are $15 per person, including lunch. If you are interested, contact Pam.

Round #1, 9am to 4pm
June 13th – John A. Logan College
June 14th – Southeastern Illinois College

Round #2, half day
July 25th – John A. Logan Collage
July 26th – Southeastern Illinois College

Round #1, 9am to 4pm
June 27th – Lincoln Land Community College
June 28th – Illinois Central College

Round #2, half day
August 8th – Illinois Central College
August 9th – Lincoln Land Community College

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