Quick Hit Ashlee Rezin Thursday March 7th, 2013, 6:15pm

Illinois Is National Leader In Green Initiatives, Jobs

Environmental policies in Illinois have pushed the state to be one of the best ranked in the nation for green initiatives. Most recently, Illinois ranked fourth in the nation for clean energy and clean transportation jobs in 2012 by a report issued yesterday from Environmental Entrepreneurs.

According to the report, Illinois introduced 16 clean energy projects in 2012, resulting in 6,618 potential green jobs. The biggest project was the $2 billion Rock Island Clean Line Transmission Project, which will "manufacture 500 miles of overhead transmission cable for a grid designed to harness wind energy." Projected to start in 2014 and spanning from northwest Iowa to Morris, IL, the project is slated to bring 1,450 jobs to the state and deliver 3,500 megawatts of renewable energy to Illinois and other eastern states.

California led the nation with 38 clean energy projects announced last year, with a potential for 26,354 jobs in the state. Once nationwide projects come to fruition, clean energy and clean transportation projects will create more than 110,000 jobs across the country, according to the report.

The American Wind Energy Association, ranked Illinois fifth in the nation for new wind installations in 2012, largely attributed to the state's Renewable Portfolio Standard (RPS). Illinois installed 491 wind turbines last year. 

According to Illinois' RPS, a regulation that requires the state to get a predetermined portion of its energy from naturally renewable sources, 25 percent of retail electric sales should come from a renewable energy source by 2025.

In addition to high rankings form Environmental Entrepreneurs and the American Wind Energy Association, the U.S. Green Building Council (USGBC) ranked Illinois fifth in the nation for new Leadership in Energy and Environmental Design (LEED) certifications in 2012.

Illinois certified 156 LEED projects last year. In total, the state has certified more than 700 LEED projects, according to the USGBC.

“These rankings call into focus the true path toward new industry and the potential for clean jobs and environmental sustainability in Illinois,” said Bruce Ratain, state policy associate for Environment Illinois, in an interview.

According to the Green Buildings Act, all new Illinois-funded building construction projects are required to seek a minimum Leadership in Energy and Environmental Design (LEED) Silver certification, and all major renovations of existing state-owned facilities must seek LEED certification. Developed by the U.S. Green Building Council (USGBC), LEED certifications are a system of ratings for the design, construction and operation of green buildings.

According to Judith Albert, executive director for Environmental Entrepreneurs, “clean energy policies are driving growth” in jobs and green energy production.

On a conference call Tuesday, Albert used as Kansas as an example, which adopted an RPS in 2011 and has since tripled wind generation. Nineteen wind farms in Kansas have collectively produced 12,000 jobs and $13 million in payments to landowners annually.

“Clean energy is important for both the economy and the environment,” she said. “Americans want more clean energy ... Clean energy jobs typically pay better than average, they help the economy and they help the environment.”

However, Albert said green initiatives are “under attack.”

The American Legislative Exchange Council (ALEC), a conservative association of state legislators boasting more than 2,000 members from all 50 states, has proposed repealing states’ renewable portfolio standards under the “Electricity Freedom Act.” The act alleges “forcing business, industry, and ratepayers to use renewable energy through a government mandate will increase the cost of doing business and push companies to do business with other states or nations.”

“(The Electricity Freedom Act) creates huge uncertainties for clean energy industries that are making plans to invest in states because of their RPS,” said Albert. “This uncertainty is negative for companies that have corporate sustainability goals and they consider RPS and other state policies when they’re deciding the new location of new facilities — uncertainty is bad for business, that’s the bottom line.”

The argument by ALEC (and the Electricity Freedom Act) alleging that policies which involve "a renewable energy mandate is essentially a tax on consumers of electricity" have been widely discredited, though.

New clean industries are going to drive the nation’s economy, and Illinois could be one the leaders of that transition if it continues to move forward on its existing path, said Environment Illinois' Ratain.

“Illinois’ RPS has been a driver of economic development, new jobs and environmental sustainability,” he said. “We’ve only begun to tap the potential for clean industries and green buildings in this state.”

Illinois still has some work to do, though, in terms of really being green. The state ranked sixth in the nation for consumption of electricity in 2010, according to the U.S Department of Energy. 

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