Learner Op-Ed in State Journal-Register: Clean Power Plan makes good economic sense for Illinois

Illinois is an economic winner under the new Clean Power Plan because of our state’s robust clean wind power, solar energy and energy efficiency resources and nuclear plants. The Clean Power Plans sets flexible standards for Illinois and other states to reduce carbon pollution.

Building new wind farms in central Illinois creates jobs, boosts property tax revenues for schools and local governments, and provides new income for farmers who can continue to grow corn and soybeans while gaining wind turbine lease payments. Wind power produces clean energy that grows Illinois’ economy while reducing pollution for everyone.

Energy efficiency is the best, fastest and cheapest way to reduce carbon pollution while saving homeowners money on their utility bills and businesses money that improves their bottom lines.

Illinois is now fifth in the nation for wind power capacity. Illinois is home to the nation’s largest nuclear plant fleet. Solar energy is primed to accelerate. Illinois homes and business and governmental and university buildings have untapped opportunities for highly efficient LED lighting, improved heating and cooling systems, better pumps and motors, and other modern energy efficiency technologies that save money and reduce pollution.

The Environmental Law & Policy Center’s Illinois Clean Energy Supply Chain report identified 237 Illinois companies engaged in the solar industry supply chain, and 170 Illinois wind industry supply chain companies. These businesses employ 20,000 people across Illinois. The Clean Power Plan and renewable energy development solutions are good for jobs, good for economic growth and good for our environment.

So, what’s the problem?

Missourian Terry Jarrett’s Dec. 7 guest column attacked the Clean Power Plan that is designed to reduce carbon pollution, help grow the clean energy economy and accelerate practical climate solutions. Jarrett’s economic arguments were based on a report by “Energy Ventures Analysis” that, apparently, was commissioned by the National Mining Association, including Peabody Energy, which is headquartered in Missouri. What does one expect when the cost estimates are being generated at the behest of large coal mining companies?

Let’s set the record straight. Some coal plants in Illinois are retiring because of changing realities in the competitive electricity market: (1) low natural gas prices, (2) economical wind power, (3) affordable energy efficiency holding down electricity demand, and (4) nuclear plants for which Exelon is asking for public subsidies to keep running.

Natural gas prices are low — today, $2.02 MMBtu — and many coal plants are just not competitive on a fuel basis. That’s why Dynegy and NRG are retiring some of their coal plants that are uneconomic in the competitive power market. They are converting some other coal plants to natural gas. These corporate business decisions reflect today’s competitive market prices and reasonable near-term projections; the Clean Power Plan requirements, however, won’t take effect until 2023 at the earliest.

Electricity sales are down about 1 percent annually in Illinois due to energy efficiency. There’s a surplus of electric generating supply over demand here. That results in relatively low wholesale electricity market prices. That’s good for Illinois businesses and residents. That’s not so good for power plant owners.

The Illinois Department of Commerce and Economic Opportunity’s recent study determined that reaching renewable energy and energy efficiency targets already in state statutes would trigger creation of 9,600 new jobs by 2019. The study also found that investments in wind power and solar energy have “led to a dramatic increase in manufacturing jobs at renewable component manufacturers across Illinois from Peoria to Cicero, Clinton, Rockford, and Chicago.”

Illinois should benefit from cleaner air, clean jobs and economic growth that the Clean Power Plan will accelerate. Let’s be smart, move forward and seize these strategic opportunities for progress.

— Howard A. Learner is the executive director of the Environmental Law & Policy Center, an environmental quality and economic development advocacy organization headquartered in Chicago.

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