Illinois’ Lame Duck Session is Opportunity to Save Solar, Invest Equitably

Illinois solar programs are collapsing for lack of funds. Streamlined legislation (S.B. 3096) prioritizing equitable access would avoid thousands of solar worker layoffs and buy us enough time to pass comprehensive legislation during the 5-day lame duck session that ends Wednesday. 

Last month, Illinois Power Agency ran out of funding for small solar projects, the last funding block available from the Future Energy Jobs Act (FEJA). If unaddressed, this will lead to sweeping layoffs and long term delays in pursuing the clean energy future here in Illinois.

Fortunately, there is a small legislative fix that would buy us some time to pass comprehensive energy legislation like the Clean Energy Jobs Act (CEJA). Due to a quirk in current statute, $300-400 million of the program’s funds were unable to be deployed towards our clean energy goals as intended. Instead, they have “rolled over” from year to year and are now set to expire before the end of 2021. 

Using these “rollover” funds now would be consistent with the original purpose of FEJA and would create some desperately needed stability for the solar workforce and industry. Unlocking these funds would only require a few technical changes and guidance to the Illinois Power Agency. We cannot wait, our representatives in Springfield must make these important and quick changes to save Illinois solar jobs and ensure that families and businesses are able to choose solar.

We also have an opportunity to redistribute $17.5 million from the Illinois Solar for All program budget to a new program that provides seed funding of up to $1 million for disadvantaged businesses, contractors, and community organizations pursuing solar energy projects in environmental justice communities. The new program – called the Jobs and Environmental Justice Seed Funding Program – would cover upfront costs and reduce barriers to entry caused by inequitable access to capital and technical assistance. 

As we rebuild, we can’t go back to ‘normal.’ Normal didn’t work for many Illinois families, particularly families of color. A seed funding program for disadvantaged businesses to bring solar savings to environmental justice communities is an easy, no-cost solution that will put Illinois on a better path forward.

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