Wind turbines and solar panels are springing up across the Midwest, providing clean energy and good jobs for many of our neighbors. Everybody benefits from clean energy on the grid already, but solar has great potential to do more, to help correct injustice in our energy system. With wise investment and open engagement, we can expand solar development in a way that maximizes equity across the energy system.
In order to jumpstart a diverse renewable market with the widest possible range of benefits, we have to embrace innovative solutions from across the grid and in all kinds of communities. Targeted programs, thoughtful policies, and community engagement will be essential to a just transition into the clean energy economy of the future. The Midwest is already warming faster than the rest of the country, so we need all hands on deck to help reduce pollution and build a more resilient energy system.
About 31% of U.S. households struggle to pay energy bills, sometimes making difficult decisions between food, medicine, and keeping the lights on. Furthermore, low-income and minority populations tend to bear more health burdens from fossil fuel combustion pollution; they should have the opportunity to be part of the solution. Renewable energy provides stable costs, because customers do not have to pay for imported fuels from volatile international markets. Not only is clean energy good for powering low-income homes, it can also be good for powering up the economy through job training like in Illinois’ Solar For All program. Our team works with community partners, state agencies, and utilities across the region to support inclusive opportunities for low-income Midwesterners to join the green economy.
Shared solar projects allow multiple electric consumers to own or subscribe to a shared solar project and receive credit for the output. For a customer who lives in an apartment, has limited sun, or has other reasons that prohibit solar installation on their own property, they can still access solar energy with a shared installation. Some utilities, rural electric co-ops, and municipalities have developed community solar projects, but Illinois and Minnesota are the only Midwestern states with state-wide programs and policies so far. ELPC is working with states and communities across the region to open renewable energy opportunities for all kinds of households. Read more about Community Owned-Community Solar here.
State and local rules often determine what can be built where, but uncertainty and inconsistency in zoning regulations and a patchwork of authorities can present challenges for developing solar projects. By integrating renewable energy projects into existing or planned land uses we could suit community needs and expand energy opportunities. Statewide incentives through a Brownfield Redevelopment program could help bring new life to underutilized, contaminated, and blighted properties, while state-wide standards for “pollinator-friendly” or “farm-friendly” solar projects promote compatible land use, environmental benefits, and community acceptance. As a regional organization, ELPC helps to share innovative ideas from local communities across the Midwest, to clarify existing policies and invite new ones. Read more about this work here.
After a new policy is passed, ELPC continues to work for fair implementation, to ensure the rollout is as successful as the intent. For example, ELPC performed a geospatial analysis and discovered urban areas were getting left behind by Illinois’ community solar program, so our team offered a methodology to classify & prioritize sites to ensure geographic diversity.