November 04, 2010

Voters Keep Illinois Moving To A Cleaner Energy Future

As the results of Tuesday's election become final, it is clear that Illinois voters are not at all angry about at least one aspect of Illinois government - the major changes we've made in our energy policies in recent years to prioritize renewable energy like wind and solar power, and to get serious about energy conservation.
Starting in 2007, Illinois enacted a series of major clean energy laws that have already created 10,000 new jobs in renewable energy, with thousands more on the way in the years ahead. Our gas and electric utilities are launching major new conservation programs to help homes and businesses cut costs and pollution by reducing energy use, and by 2025, 25% of our electricity must come from renewable sources.

Illinois voters rewarded the key leaders in making these changes with victories this week, and also elected some exciting fresh faces who prioritized clean energy in their campaigns, and who are poised to bring new energy to Springfield. There were stark differences between the candidates on energy policy, and there was great risk that the plug would be pulled on Illinois' transition to a clean energy economy. Here's a brief rundown on some of the key races with major implications for Illinois energy policy:

-Governor Pat Quinn's victory over State Senator Bill Brady is hugely important to maintaining momentum for clean energy in Illinois and in the country. Quinn has made growing Illinois' clean energy a top priority, from implementing our renewable energy standard to maximize Illinois job creation, supporting key legislative actions, budgeting capital construction dollars for energy-efficient construction, switching the state capitol complex from coal to wind power, and appointing clean energy advocate Manny Flores to the Chair the Illinois Commerce Commission. Brady, on the other hand, was one of 13 State Senators to oppose Illinois' landmark clean energy law in 2007, and also opposed energy efficient building codes for new construction and funding for high-speed rail improvements. Brady also doesn't "accept the premise" that pollution is causing climate change, and voted to bar the state from taking any action to regulate global warming pollution. Sierra Club, organized labor, and local government leaders warned before the election that Brady threatened to short-circuit our clean energy economy. Sierra Club made 42,384 mail, 13,653 email, and 7,208 volunteer phone contacts to its members to educate them about the energy issues in the race and urge them to vote.

-In the Illinois Senate, four candidates highlighted their support for clean energy policies in their television advertising and campaign messages. Three of them won, including Michael Noland (D-Elgin), lead Senate sponsor of a new state law to jumpstart the Illinois solar energy industry. Noland appears to have defeated former State Sen. Steve Rauschenberger, who preceeded Noland in the Senate, in the era when subsidizing coal and nuclear power constituted Illinois' energy policy. Toi Hutchinson (D- Chicago Heights) also featured her support for renewable energy jobs in her campaign, and beat back a spirited challenge from tea party candidate Adam Baumgartner. Hutchinson is excited to get back to work on clean energy in Springfield. John Mulroe (D-Chicago) won a hotly contested race on Chicago's west side and near west suburbs, and sees new energy technologies as a key job creator for our state. Sierra Club sent full-time organizers to the Noland, Hutchinson, and Mulroe campaigns to educate Sierra Club members and swing voters about the choices for clean energy in these races. In these three battleground disricts, Sierra Club made 11,204 mail contacts, 2,940 live calls, and knocked on 1,914 doors to get these messages out. Unfortunately, Michael Bond (D-Grayslake), sponsor of Illinois' net metering law that allows homeowners and small businesses who install renewable energy systems to sell excess power back to the grid, was narrowly defeated by Lake Count Board chair Suzi Schmidt (R- Lake Villa). Schmidt did not run against clean energy policies, and in fact has, in the past, worked to protect open space in Lake County.

-In the Illinois House, suburban battleground seats were generally won by candidates who support clean energy and reduce global warming pollution. Incumbents who support clean energy like Fred Crespo (D-Streamwood), who passed legislation enabling local school district to team up to invest in wind power, Sara Feigenholtz (D-Chicago), who passed legislation to help condo owners install solar panels, and Karen May (D-Highland Park), Chair of the House Renewable Energy Committee, all beat back spirited challenges, as did Carol Sente (D-Vernon Hills), Keith Farnham (D-Elgin), Emily McAsey (D-Lockport), Mike Fortner (R-West Chicago), and Elaine Nekritz (D-Northfield). Several fresh faces will also bring a focus on environmental protection to the Illinois House, including Ann Williams (D-Chicago), Daniel Biss (D-Skokie), Michelle Mussman (D-Hoffman Estates), and Chris Nybo (R-Elmhurst.) In these races, Sierra Club contacted 9,104 swing voters and Sierra Club members.

-Attorney General Lisa Madigan, a key player in Illinois energy policy, cruised to re-election, and she will return as a strong advocate for the environment and clean energy.

Obviously, the success of these clean energy candidates for state office stands in stark contrast to the races for federal offices in Illinois, where clearly, larger forces contributed to the defeat of incumbents Debbie Halvorson (D-Crete), Bill Foster (D-Batavia), Phil Hare (D-Rock Island), and, apparently, Melissa Bean (D-Barrington). State Treasurer Alexi Giannoulias, who made clean energy a priority in his campaign, narrowly lost to Mark Kirk (R-Wilmette), who previously supported clean energy and climate legislation, but has most recently pledged to oppose limits on global warming pollution.

With little expected from the next Congress in the way of clean energy, states like Illinois may be nationally significant in advancing clean energy technologies and businesses. We've come a long way in recent years toward those goals, and Tuesday's election results are an indication that voters want that progress to continue.