The Illinois Power Agency has given a tangible glimpse into the solar energy incentive purgatory that the state has existed in since the final incentives from the state’s 2017 Future Energy Jobs Act (FEJA) were awarded in December 2019. It reported that just 313 small rooftop solar projects, defined as those under 10 kW, were completed statewide in the three-month period ending June 30, compared with 2,908 a year earlier.
The nearly 90% decrease in project completions shows just how much the state’s residential solar industry is suffering, while lawmakers still sit deadlocked over what legislation and incentives will replace FEJA.
Between the evaporation of the state’s residential solar incentive program and the onset of the Covid-19 pandemic, solar workers in the state have been hit especially hard. Once the funding ran out at the end of 2020, businesses could no longer take on new projects and, as a result, the state’s solar industry has lost roughly 3,500 jobs to date, according to the Solar Energy industries Association. This incentive-related employment loss was piling on the tens of thousands of solar jobs that were lost nationally due to the pandemic.
And while the health of the state’s solar industry deteriorates by the day, a successor program to lift the state out of this incentive purgatory does not appear to be on the horizon. Earlier this month, the Illinois Clean Jobs Coalition (ICJC) and Climate Jobs Illinois (CJI), two politically powerful groups representing environmental and organized labor interests, were tasked with leading the campaign to compromise and finalize a new incentive program, but informed the state that an impasse had been reached.
While Gov. Pritzker and legislators slammed the two groups for failing to compromise, the burden of finding that middle ground has since shifted to the state.
This bill calls for the phasing out of both coal- and gas-fired power, with coal set to be gone by 2030 and natural gas by 2045. Within these phase-out targets, the bill also includes plant-specific declining caps on emissions that would lead to plant closures and a carbon tax starting at $8/ton and escalating 3% each year.
The bill is not the most aggressive piece of legislation that has been introduced, as the Clean Energy Jobs Act calls for decarbonizing the power sector by 2030. However, many of the Clean Energy Jobs Act’s advocates, and supporters of the proposed Path to 100, have shifted their alliances to Pritzker and the Consumers and Climate First Act.
Until compromise is reached and new legislation and incentives are instituted, the state’s residential solar industry will continue to flounder, workers will continue to lose their jobs, and the state will fall further and further away from it’s goal of achieving 25% renewable energy across each of its utilities by 2025.
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