May 27, 2010

Solar Jumpstart Package Goes to Gov

Good news from Springfield this week! Two key components of the RENEW (Rebuild our Economy with New Energy Work) package passed the Illinois House and are on their way to Gov. Quinn.

Good work by our legislative champions, including Sens. Don Harmon and Mike Noland, and Reps. Will Burns, Sara Feigenholtz, along with a lot of helpers (including former Rep. Deborah Graham) in getting this done amidst a chaotic session.

This sends a strong signal that renewables are ready here in the heartland!

From a press release:

Last night, the Illinois General Assembly passed two bills that will create more than 5,000 new jobs and bring more than 3 million kilowatt hours of solar electricity to Illinois consumers by 2014.

"By removing barriers to solar power developers, these measures will create approximately 5,000 new jobs between now and 2015," said Assistant Senate Majority Leader Don Harmon (D-Oak Park), a chief sponsor of HB 6202 in the Illinois Senate. "The cost of solar power has dropped dramatically, and by investing in solar energy now Illinois will be well-positioned to attract solar manufacturing and installation jobs and businesses."

"This puts Illinois in a strong position to attract good, clean energy jobs in the growing solar energy industry," said State Representative Will Burns (D-Chicago), who sponsored HB 6202 in the Illinois House. "Solar power offers potential jobs in communities that need them most, and cleaner air for all of us to breathe."

“We’ve been talking about a clean energy future for a long time, now that future is here,” said Barry Matchett, Policy Advocate for the Environmental Law & Policy Center. “More than ever, we need to put people to work and create clean, safe sources of energy and that’s what these bills do.”

The Solar Ramp Up bill (HB 6202) sets annual targets for the amount of solar power used in Illinois between 2012 and 2015, these targets give industry a green light to invest in solar power and create new jobs, revenue and clean energy here in Illinois.

"Soon some of the electricity powering our homes will be coming from solar energy, in addition to the wind power we have started using in recent years," said Jack Darin, Director of the Sierra Club, Illinois Chapter. "We have created thousands of new wind power jobs with those purchases, and now stand to gain up to 5,000 new jobs by growing the solar industry - all while making deep cuts in air pollution."

Illinois passed a landmark renewable energy standard in 2007 that requires 25% of Illinois’ electricity be generated from renewable sources by 2025. The law requires that at least 6% of the state’s renewable energy come from solar power by 2015, but it didn’t provide a path for Illinois utilities to meet that goal. SB 6202 establishes those targets and sets Illinois on the path to becoming the leading Midwestern state for solar energy. Because of SB 6202 more than 5,000 solar panel installation, manufacturing and maintenance jobs will be created and significant pollution will be avoided.

SB 6202 is the result of an agreement between advocates like the Environmental Law & Policy Center, Sierra Club and the state’s utilities and retail electric suppliers to create a logical schedule to phase in the solar component of renewable energy.
Other supporters of the bill include the Illinois Attorney General’s Office, the City of Chicago, the AFL-CIO, Citizens Utility Board, Illinois Competitive Energy Association, Illinois Environmental Council and the Illinois Respiratory Health Association

Also late Wednesday night, the General Assembly passed HB 5429, the Homeowners’ Solar Rights Act. The legislation clarifies the rights of homeowners living in homeowner or condominium associations to put solar panels on the property and outlines a process for that to occur.

"This legislation removes barriers for many homeowners who want to put solar panels on their roofs, but have been prevented from doing so by outdated restrictions," said State Representative Sara Feigenholtz (D- Chicago), who sponsored HB 5429, the Homeowners' Solar Rights Act, in the Illinois House. "Now Illinois homeowners who want to cut pollution and their utility bills by installing solar panels will be free to do so."

May 24, 2010

A Sunnier Future For Illinois?

As the Illinois House returns to focus on the state's budget crisis, they have a chance to take final action on two bills that will create good jobs and jumpstart the Illinois solar energy industry.

House Bills 6202 and 5429 don't cost the state anything, but will create good, high-paying jobs while helping businesses and homeowners cut energy costs. Both are key components of the RENEW package to encourage the use and development of clean energy sources.

HB 6202 moves up the date that Illinois utilities must start buying solar energy from 2016 to 2011. Particularly in this recession, this is critical to securing financing and a market for utility-scale solar plants, like the one Exelon has build on Chicago's south side.

HB 5429 estabilishes the rights of multi-unit homeowners to participate in clean energy generation. Currently, condo and homeowner's association rules, in many cases designed for satellite dishes, prohibit rooftop solar installation. These solar bans have blocked many homeowners from deploying solar, and been a barrier to growth for solar contractors.

Both of these bills have cleared the Illinois Senate, and the House is ready to take them up this week. Please take action now to urge your State Representative to send these two key components of the RENEW package to Gov Quinn.

Hopefully, before the Illinois House adjourns to enjoy the summer sun, they will take final action on two bills that will create good jobs and jumpstart the Illinois solar energy industry.

Tell your State Representative to vote YES on House Bills 6202 and 5429 - they doesn't cost the state anything, will create good, high-paying jobs while helping businesses and homeowners cut energy costs.

May 20, 2010

The Carp Hunt Continues

A new phase in the hunt for the Asian Carp begins today, as state and federal agencies begin an operation on a 2-mile stretch of the Cal-Sag Channel, on the inland side of the O'Brien Lock and Dam. This particular stretch has been a hotspot for Asian Carp DNA, and is thought to be good habitat for the invader.

This week's operation is improved based on the lessons learned from December's poisoning. In that operation, we don't know if/how many Asian Carp were killed and sank to the bottom. This time, they are netting the bottom first, so all fish should be recovered. They will also will all be sorted and counted, which should tell us if there are Asian Carp there, but also tell us a lot about the state of the waterway's recovery. The more different kinds of native fish they find, the healthier the water is.

Before poisoning the water (with a plant-based toxin that will then be neutralized to avoid downstream impacts), they will electro-shock it, which only stuns fish. Native species will be collected, kept alive, and returned to the water after the operation is complete.

We're very encouraged to see the Obama and Quinn Administrations mobilize like never before to try to protect our Great Lakes from Asian carp. The immediate actions to find and kill Asian carp near Lake Michigan appear to be necessary. It is also a reminder, however, of the urgent need to begin planning for a permanent solution - undoing the artificial connection of the Great Lakes and the Illinois/Mississippi watersheds. That will take time and very careful planning, and we need to begin now so this period of occasional poisonings and other short-term measures is as short as possible.

May 05, 2010

The Revenge of the Polluter Bailout

The General Assembly is really bending over backward in an attempt to bail out a chronic polluter by making you buy the electricity they generate burning tires that could be recycled.

IEPA has notified the Ford Heights tire incinerator of numerous violations of clean air laws. Now some state legislators want to reward their chronic violations with financial support - from you.

First, they tried to classify tire incinerators as "renewable" energy, so they utilities buying the power they generate could count it against the clean energy they have to buy every year.

See how your legislators voted here. Look at the May 4th vote for your Senator - thank them if they voted No.

That didn't pass the laugh test with most legislators. So, backers of the polluter made up a new definition - "reusable energy" - for tire incineration. What's in a name? Well, SB 380 would give "reusable energy" sources access to renewable energy grants that you pay for on your monthly electric bill. They also would get to sell their power to you, through your utility.

That scheme passed the Illinois House - barely - with 61 votes. Last night, it failed in the Illinois Senate, by a wide margin, but that hasn't stopped them from trying again. The same proposal is on the Senate's agenda again for action tonight or tomorrow.

I know bad ideas never die, but surely Springfield has better things to do with their time than bailing out those who routinely break our clean air laws. Let's hope the Senate rejects them again. This is getting to be like a bad horror movie.

See how your legislators voted here.