"Let Solar Shine"

This column has been written by Courtney Eccles, PCG Assistant Director for Outreach and Policy, who is leading PCG’s organizing effort in the State Capitol today.

As you read this article, over 100 environmentalists, people of faith, business leaders, and youth are participating in the 3rd annual Environmental Lobby Day in Springfield. They are educating legislators on a number of important pieces of legislation—seeking to persuade our elected officials that Illinois has both the opportunity and the responsibility to pass crucial environmental legislation.

You may remember that our statewide efforts in past years focused on a bill that would require “clean cars” to be sold in Illinois (as they are in 14 other states). Although we were unable to gain state action, our work assisted in the passage of higher fuel efficiency standards at the federal level. This year we are turning our sights to a new issue altogether—solar power for Illinois.

It only takes a short drive down I-55, passing hundreds of wind turbines, to see that Illinois is making great strides in alternative energy, at least when it comes to wind power. Just five years ago, Illinois had a wind power capacity of just 100 megawatts (MW; 1 MW is enough electricity to power 1,000 homes); now we have almost 2000 MW, and that number continues to rise.

When it comes to solar, Illinois lags far behind. At the start of 2010, we had only 3.3 MW of installed solar power capacity; each of 27 cities in California has more solar capacity than that. Yet, Illinois has more solar potential than Germany and Japan, two of the world’s leaders in solar energy. Power from the sun is free and clean; the infrastructure is long-lasting; and once installed it is virtually free of operating and maintenance costs.

This is why PCG, in collaboration with a number of other environmental organizations, is working for the passage of a package of solar bills, called RENEW Illinois, that will address industry barriers to expansion, provide incentives for residents and businesses, create thousands of new jobs, and move Illinois away from its dependence on coal-powered electricity.

RENEW Illinois includes four goals:

  • ensuring that residential property owners are not legally restricted from installing renewable energy components, like solar panels, on their property;
  • allowing home-owners access to low-interest loans to cover the up-front costs of solar panels or energy and water-efficiency improvements;
  • expanding Illinois’ net-metering regulations (under net metering, when a household with a renewable energy source like solar panels produces more electricity than it can use, utilities buy back the excess and supply it to other energy users; this arrangement encourages more residents and businesses to invest in renewable energy systems); and
  • establishing interim benchmarks for solar production in Illinois to assure that we meet the requirements of Illinois Renewable Energy Portfolio Standard in 2015.

Through this legislation, we can reduce our dependence on fossil fuels and create thousands of new jobs in the clean energy economy. PCG, and our environmental counterparts, are confident that we can be successful this session, but not without your support.

As our lobby day comes to a close, there is still time for those of you at home to help. Carry our momentum into tomorrow by calling or emailing your state senator and representative and asking them to support this important legislation. Read the RENEW Illinois fact sheet, which includes bill numbers and talking points. Years of experience have shown that legislators need to hear from a broad base of constituents.

As people of faith we bring a unique perspective to this work. We care for creation and all those who live in it. We have a duty to protect the earth and its resources. Make your voice heard on this important issue today, tomorrow, and throughout the rest of session.

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