Environment Illinois: A window into our clean energy future

By Bruce Ratain
Field Associate, Environment Illinois

Last week, President Barack Obama responded to the worst environmental disaster in U.S. history with an Oval Office address stressing two key messages: A commitment to repair the Gulf and a charge to Congress to move America off fossil fuels and toward a clean energy future.

We know offshore drilling and fossil fuel dependence will never be completely safe; our clean energy future must start now.

But what will this future hold for Illinois?

Illinois’ clean energy future will mean highly-efficient buildings that generate what little energy they need on-site. Our cars and commerce will be powered not by burning gasoline and coal, but by the wind and sun. Illinois will be greener, our air cleaner, and our citizens healthier. Illinois will have more jobs, and Illinoisans will be richer.

We can already glimpse this bright future.

Wind farms currently produce 1,118 megawatts of Illinois’ power. According to Illinois State University’s Wind Working Group, those wind farms created more than 6,000 new construction jobs, with a payroll exceeding $300 million, and 292 ongoing jobs, with a payroll of $15 million. They add more than $11 million in annual property taxes to local government coffers and, through land leases, nearly $4.5 million annually in income for Illinois farmers.

That’s a single clean energy industry exploiting a small fraction of its Illinois potential.

Heeding the president’s call for a clean energy future will mean massive increases in energy efficiency, the cheapest, cleanest, most job-intensive new energy source. According to a recent Environment Illinois report, feasible energy-efficient building standards, combined with efficiency retrofits for existing buildings, would, by 2050, cut Illinois families’ home energy bills by 50 percent, and Illinois businesses’ per-worker energy costs by 60 percent.

Heeding the president’s call could also make Illinois a major player in generating wind and solar power and manufacturing the machinery that produces it. The Renewable Energy Policy Project found a modest scenario for expanded renewable energy production would create more than 50,000 new Illinois green manufacturing jobs.

Dollar for dollar, investments in clean energy and efficiency generate between 2.6 and 3.6 times as many jobs as offshore drilling and other fossil fuel energy sources, according to the Center for American Progress, and unlike offshore drilling, they create jobs in all 50 states.

Last week, President Obama called for a clean energy future that protects America’s environment and national security and prevents future disasters like the BP oil spill.

It’s clear that this future will also turn Illinois’ trickle of clean energy jobs into a torrent of new economic opportunity.

Environment Illinois urges Congress to heed the president’s call and pass a comprehensive climate and energy bill this year. And, we urge Illinois’ U.S. senators Richard Durbin (D) and Roland Burris (D) to be leaders in that effort.

Bruce Ratain, field associate for Environment Illinois, can be reached at bruce.ratain@gmail.com.

From the June 23-29, 2010 issue

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