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State lawmakers, unions present clean energy bill to improve Illinois, save nuclear jobs

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SPRINGFIELD, Ill. – A bipartisan group of lawmakers introduced a new clean energy plan Monday with support from unions across Illinois. They hope to get the state closer to 100% clean energy while also creating new jobs for underrepresented communities.

The Climate Union Jobs Act could include thousands of laborers in the progress to a 100% clean energy economy. Their proposal could also address income inequality for communities disproportionately impacted by climate change.

Lawmakers and advocates say they share the same goal as other clean energy groups pushing for legislation this year. However, they argue their bill puts working people first to help with good-paying jobs and a carbon-free future.

“Out of the 28 utility-scale wind farms that are being built, 21 are non-union. For solar projects, 40 out of the 61 utility-scale solar projects are being built non-union. And a lot of these workers are from outside the state of Illinois. It shouldn’t be that way,” said Sen. Michael Hastings (D-Tinley Park). “The bill we have introduced today is going to transform those numbers. It’s a simple requirement. If you use money from the state of Illinois, in terms of energy and renewable energy projects, you should use a highly-trained, highly-qualified workforce.”

Preserving nuclear jobs

At the same time, the group wants to preserve Illinois’ nuclear plants.

“The three nuclear plants near my constituents employ thousands of nuclear workers directly and many more indirectly,” said Sen. Sue Rezin (R-Morris). “Without those plants, our state and local communities would lose millions in tax revenue that keeps the communities going.”

Advocates say the plan creates 74 million megawatt-hour carbon mitigation credits for zero emission facilities like the nuclear plants in Byron, LaSalle, Braidwood, and Dresden. They also emphasized it could protect 28,000 jobs at nuclear stations that bring in $125 million in tax revenue.

“The station is extremely important to the economy,” said Ben Busser, a member of IBEW Local 15 in Byron. “Without it, Ogle County would be a desolate area. Businesses would struggle and people would leave.”

The proposal calls for a displaced energy workers Bill of Rights as well. That would require advance notice for coal mine or power plant closures. It also covers full-tuition scholarships for Illinois colleges or trade schools for those workers. Sponsors say laid-off employees could also receive two years of health insurance coverage with the same benefits at or below their current premium.

Reducing emissions

Sponsors hope to cut down on emissions by converting school buses to electric with $30 million over five years. Lawmakers would also provide an annual $50 million to help schools become carbon-free environments with new heating and cooling options incorporating solar panels. Rep. Jay Hoffman (D-Belleville) says this provision of the bill could help 3,330 public schools across the state.

“It would save these schools billions of dollars,” Hoffman explained. “It’s estimated $2.3 billion in operational expenses. So, we’re using our resources – our financial resources, as well as our natural resources – to move our state forward.”

The Climate Jobs Illinois coalition also earmarked $150 million in annual savings for low-income families through this proposal. Advocates say they want to work with lawmakers to make significant energy changes without raising fees for customers.

Advocates said the state could provide $31 million per year in low-income assistance by expanding the Energy Assistance Act. They explained $67 million could come from doubling energy efficiency commitments for households in low-income areas. Lawmakers hope to save $30 million for low-income customers by creating clean transportation services. Small business and non-profits are expected to save $23.5 million per year. Illinois would also expand eligibility for the plan lowering utility bills to a price no greater than a percentage of the consumer’s income.

“This bill provides the blueprint for moving our state forward to a carbon-free future without leaving workers and families behind. It puts them first,” said Rep. Larry Walsh Jr. (D-Elwood). “As the General Assembly debates different proposals, I will fight so that working families are at the center of our efforts.”

Diversity and inclusion in energy

Rep. Marcus Evans also explained the proposal could provide $50 million over 10 years for programs building an equitable and inclusive workforce. An additional $5 million would go into the Illinois Works program to recruit a diverse workforce for pre-apprenticeship training programs.

“The bill requires that the renewable energy developers report on their workforce diversity,” said Rep. Marcus Evans (D-Chicago). “If a developer does not meet necessary metrics, they must, not can, but they must develop an action plan to get there because we want them to be there.”

Lawmakers filed the language as amendments to Senate Bill 1100 and House Bill 1472. Yet, the proposals weren’t updated online on the General Assembly website before this story aired.