By Tom Kiernan
Energy policy has been a behind-the-scenes insiders game in Illinois for too long. Gov. J.B. Pritzker is taking bold steps to provide a transparent process that puts consumers and clean energy first. We applaud his leadership and welcome this new era of energy leadership in Illinois.
Pritzker’s Eight Principles for a Clean & Renewable Illinois Economy, marked by transparency, innovation and inclusion while keeping consumers’ bottom line first, give Illinois citizens a path to 100 percent clean energy and a seat at the table.
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Fixing the renewable energy procurement process, improving the predictability of the permitting process for renewables, and increasing investments in wind and solar are important cornerstones to build upon.
We must also embrace the role renewables are playing in attracting new investment. The governor highlighted one such success—Illinois’ emerging leadership in vehicle electrification. But renewable energy is driving many new successes, including a major Facebook data center and projects from Microsoft and Amazon, to name a few.
Existing Illinois industries are increasingly looking for energy diversity, too. For example, the critical food and beverage sector is the third-largest renewable energy purchaser after tech and retail.
Equally important to driving clean energy growth is cultivating the modernization of our energy grid. The governor can help the state lead in this effort by adding grid modernization to the list of guiding principles and prioritizing energy transmission infrastructure as the state’s 21st-century energy highway. Transmission is the missing link that quite literally provides the spark for Illinois’ recent investments in roads and rural broadband. Private investment in transmission will open up opportunities for new investment from the industry, while adding the potential for improved broadband access in under-connected rural regions.
The combination of these policies will send a clear signal to both clean energy developers and consumers that Illinois is the best state in the Midwest for new energy investment and innovation.
Without imminent action however, the progress we’ve made is at risk. The Illinois Power Agency, the agency responsible for procuring new clean energy in the state, has sounded the alarm that Illinois’ utility-scale renewable project funding has essentially run out. This important funding leverages private investment from industry, ensuring Illinois can achieve its renewable energy goals.
These investments are not just about new projects—they are also harnessing new innovation to optimize existing projects. In Lee County, Illinois’ first wind farm built 17 years ago is undergoing repowering earlier than planned, replacing outdated technology with more productive and efficient equipment. Modern technology will mean more power with an even smaller footprint. This progress says a lot about what wind and solar investment hold in store for the future of Illinois. We are an industry with a history of overdelivering—economic investment in rural communities, nationwide workforce opportunities and environmental change that’s making a difference.
Renewable energy providers and the local communities we partner with will continue leading together to revitalize Illinois. That includes well-established leaders like McLean County, where the industry has generated over $52 million in local tax revenue with $34 million in funding for schools, as well as emerging leaders like DeWitt and Knox counties, which have approved their first wind farms and are planning for better roads and budget certainty.
Pritzker has created a window of opportunity for a new era of energy leadership. Now we need a sense of urgency from Statehouse leaders and legislators to enact the ideas that will put Illinois on a path to 100 percent clean energy. Most important, the citizens of Illinois deserve a clean energy future marked by transparency, inclusion and innovation.
Tom Kiernan is the CEO of the American Wind Energy Association in Washington, D.C.