Saturday, April 8, 2017

Why the Future Energy Jobs Bill Should Matter to People of Faith {Earth Month Series}

This is post 2 of 5 in my Earth Month Series. You can find last week's post here.  

In November 2016, after more than two years of intensive negotiations, Illinois’ General Assembly passed the most significant piece of climate and clean energy policy in the state’s history. The Future Energy Jobs Act (SB2814; Public Act 99-0906) moves our electric sector toward a more modern, low carbon economy. This bill is a victory for people in every community across Illinois who deserve more jobs, lower electric bills, and healthier air to breathe. It’s also a victory for businesses in Illinois in the clean energy sector and across the economy, and a signal to companies across the nation that Illinois is fertile ground for growth in this field--a field growing 12 times as fast as the US economy. 

The narrative on the bill has incorrectly focused on aid given to a pair of nuclear plants*, but this bill is all about the future with major emphasis on energy conservation and clean renewable energy. Approximately 70% of the funds from the overall legislation will focus on kick starting clean energy, which dwarfs the dollars going to aid the two nuclear plants, and will help chart the path toward a clean, modern energy economy for decades to come—bringing tens of thousands of new jobs, billions in private investments, cleaner air and needed savings on monthly electricity bills, statewide. 

What's especially exciting is that this bill will open up opportunities to people in low-income communities who too often have been shut out of participating in the clean energy economy. This bill invests more than $750 million in low-income programs, including the Illinois Solar for All Program to prioritize new solar development and job training in economically disadvantaged communities. Specific programs will deliver job training and creation for returning citizens (ex-offenders) and foster care alumni.

So why should this matter to people of faith? Because this bill stands up for environmental and economic justice for our neighbors and is a way to work toward healthier communities for all. Illinois leads the US in the number of fossil fuel burning plants located in communities of color. And low income residents use a higher percentage of their total expenses on energy than higher income families do. This legislation helps level the playing field, rids our air of pollution, and brings jobs to communities often left behind.

But this legislation needs your help. Though the Future Energy Jobs Act takes effect on June 1, 2017, it's in danger of losing its funding. The funds, called the Renewable Energy Resources Fund (RERF), are in danger of being swept into other programs because of the budget crisis. Sweeping these funds sweeps away the hope of lower utility bills, workforce development and job training, and cleaner air. I encourage you to call your state representatives about HR234/SB234 and ask them to protect the RERF funds.

While we wait for more solar and wind energy, you can still become a smart energy consumer. Learn how to use your smart meter or enroll in a Peak Time Rewards program or Power Smart Pricing program through Ameren. Or email me about bringing a Smart Energy Workshop to your house of worship.


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