Here in Illinois, we are growers and makers. When we grow and make our own clean energy, we keep our state’s air and water healthy while creating thousands of good new jobs for the men and women who live here.
Our state combines magnificent natural resources with an extraordinary research infrastructure, where some of the world’s smartest scientists and engineers are tackling the challenge of sustainable energy technologies. Thanks to their good work – and thanks to the many Illinois businesses that are putting those new technologies to work in the real world — the sunshine that ripens our corn and soybeans is being captured in solar farms, while tall turbines are harnessing the winds that sweep across our prairies to generate electricity for our homes and factories.
Already, Illinois is ranked among the nation’s leaders when it comes to strong environmental protection policies. But there’s much more work to be done. So at Innovation Illinois, we believe industry and government should work together to expand our use of renewable energy sources, to develop stronger incentives for clean energy investments, and to enact smart regulations that will reduce pollution as we move toward a new green energy economy.
Already, the expanding clean energy sector is creating new opportunities for Illinois businesses. A 2013 survey of 1,600 Illinois firms found that our state’s clean energy industry has become an economic engine with tremendous potential for continued growth. In fact, the survey – commissioned by the Clean Energy Trust – found that companies focused on clean energy employ some 96,875 Illinois workers – more than the real estate and accounting industries combined, according to the Illinois Department of Employment Security. Better yet, those green tech companies predicted 9% growth in 2014 – and they’re expected to hire their 100,000th Illinois worker sometime this year.
To make sure we have enough well-trained workers to fill those jobs, a consortium of 17 Illinois community colleges throughout the state has been working to create new degree and certificate programs designed to prepare unemployed workers for new careers in the green economy. This pilot program was developed through the Illinois Green Economy Network, a community college partnership, and funded through the U.S. Department of Labor. The program, titled Career Pathways, was developed in partnership with industry leaders and combines classroom instruction, interactive online training, and hands-on exercises. When Career Pathways launches statewide, it promises to transform the way that Illinois community colleges deliver accessible, affordable green job training opportunities – and will demonstrate the success we can achieve when the public and private sectors work shoulder-to-shoulder to improve the health of our economy and our environment. As our economy continues to improve and more and more Illinois workers find jobs, programs like this one will help prepare and retrain today’s workers for the great green jobs of the future.
To support our clean energy industry as it grows, Innovation Illinois strongly supports a comprehensive effort to fix Illinois’ “renewable portfolio standard” (RPS). In 2007, Illinois passed an RPS that required utilities to start using more renewable energy sources, such as wind and solar – with a goal of meeting 25% of Illinois power needs with clean energy by 2025. But since then, there have been some major changes in the electricity market. As a result, our clean-power laws need to be updated and strengthened, to create better incentives for private industry to invest further in the renewable energy sources we need to assure a healthy green future.
Ultimately, we look forward to a new energy economy that will rely exclusively on renewable power sources. But we need to keep our lights on and our engines running while we develop the green technologies of the future. So we are encouraged that the move to replace coal-fueled power plants with cleaner-burning natural gas has reduced America’s energy-related emissions of carbon dioxide to a 20-year low. That’s good news for Illinois, where the New Albany Shale offers one of our nation’s largest reserves of natural gas. However, at Innovation Illinois we are concerned about the lasting impacts of hydraulic fracturing (or “fracking.”) So we support stringent state regulations that will protect all of Illinois from the toxins that fracking can release into our land and water.
Most importantly, we support increased efficiency and conservation, so we can improve our standard of living without jeopardizing our environment. When we use energy-efficient technologies, such as low-energy lighting and “smart” heating and cooling systems, we protect our air and water while creating more good new jobs. And that means more green for everyone in Illinois.
To learn more about the bright future of clean energy in Illinois and about what you can do to protect our environment, here are some further resources:
- “Clean Jobs Illinois: An In-Depth Look at Clean Energy Employment in Illinois,” March 2014, Clean Energy Trust
- Steve Daniels, “Clean-energy jobs in Illinois nearing 100,000: study,” March 2014, Crain’s Chicago Business
- “Career Pathways Consortium,” Illinois Green Economy Network
- “Review of Emerging Resources: U.S. Shale Gas and Shale Oil Plays,” July 2011, U.S. Department of Energy, U.S. Energy Information Administration