A Bright Spot for Low-Income Solar in Illinois Energy Legislation
The Illinois General Assembly, following a series of marathon hearings and sessions, has passed sweeping energy legislation, called the Future Energy Jobs Bill (SB 2814). Once approved by Governor Bruce Rauner, the legislation will expand solar access, with a particular focus on making sure low-income communities participate in the new growing solar market.
While the fate of Exelon’s aging nuclear power plants got a lot of the attention, there are positive elements to the legislation. The legislation got even better once the proposals for mandatory demand-based rates and the weakening of net metering were removed. Kudos to Vote Solar members who contacted their legislators to help improve the bill!
Most importantly the Future Energy Jobs Bill restarts renewable energy development in Illinois, with a particular focus on making sure low-income communities participate and benefit from the anticipated launch of solar in the Land of Lincoln. In addition to creating a pathway toward the development of 3 GW of solar, including behind-the-meter installations, community solar, and brownfield development, the Future Energy Jobs Bill creates the Illinois Solar for All Program. The creation of this program reflects many of the Guiding Principles we outline with GRID Alternatives and Center for Social Inclusion in our Low-Income Solar Policy Guide:
- Accessibility and Affordability. The Illinois Solar for All Program will be designed to provide economic benefits for participating low-income customers. The program will provide meaningful incentives and will ensure low-income community participation. Importantly, the bill sets a goal for some projects to be located in Environmental Justice communities, ensuring greater access.
- Community Engagement. The program specifies that for solar developers must engage in partnership with community stakeholders when planning community solar projects. And, for the first time in a piece of legislation, the bill includes funding for community-based organizations to engage in grassroots education about the Solar for All Program. Community stakeholders can provide critical outreach, planning support, and engagement with the surrounding community. By including this requirement and the funding to back it up, the Future Energy Jobs Bill helps to ensure that the community solar program will be responsive and effective, and help maximize participation. What’s more, the development of the Solar for All Program and the concepts for solar job training in the bill included community engagement in the legislative process. We extend kudos to the low-income working group of the Clean Jobs Coalition, who ensured that community groups were integral in crafting the bill.
- Sustainability and Flexibility. The bill provides opportunities for regular evaluation of the Solar for All Program, and opportunities to make adjustments. The inclusion of this type of flexibility will help ensure the program will be successful in the long-term. Importantly, the Future Energy Jobs Bill includes sustained funding for the Solar for All Program.
- Compatibility and Integration. The Illinois Solar for All Program requires integration with energy efficiency programs and includes funding for a solar jobs training program. Moreover, the legislation includes a requirement for solar providers participating in the program to hire job trainees. By ensuring that the buildout of solar in Illinois is done in synergy with other important programs, the bill does an outstanding job of addressing the intersection of equity, energy, and infrastructure.
While the Future Energy Jobs Bill represents a compromise among the many stakeholders, we think the Illinois Solar for All program, with a sustainable source of funding, the inclusion of job training and community engagement, promises to deliver the benefits of solar to the customers in Illinois who stand to gain the most.
Learn more about how solar programs can be designed to serve low-income customers by checking out our Low-Income Solar Policy Guide.