Illinois is “leading the charge” for clean technology deployment in the country, according to a new report from Clean Edge, a research and advisory firm dedicated to energy efficient and environmentally friendly industries, policies and applications.
The firm’s inaugural U.S. Clean Tech Leadership Index report, released Tuesday, ranked Illinois’ clean-tech marketplace as 8th in the nation for strong policies that reduce the state’s environmental footprint.
“The clean-tech sector is the critical industry for economic leadership and economic development in the 21st century,” said Clint Wilder, senior editor of Clean Edge and co-author of the report. “If you want to plan for the future at all, it’s important to establish leadership and establish your state as one of the clean-tech hubs in the U.S., and I think Illinois has done a very good job of that.”
The report reveals Illinois is one of only two states (Maryland is the other) to implement building energy codes “equivalent to the latest, strongest industry standards.” Illinois is also home to a Department of Energy laboratory, Lemont’s Argonne National Laboratory, which only seven other states have as well.
“The state stands out from a policy perspective, having implemented some of the strongest building energy codes in the country, and as a result is also a leading market for (Leadership in Energy and Environmental Design) LEED and Energy Star square footage,” the report reads.
Illinois’ renewable portfolio standard (RPS), a regulation that requires the state to get at least 25 percent of its electricity from naturally renewable sources by 2025, also escalated the state’s ranking; it is one of only 29 states to implement an RPS.
Including renewable energy production, such as wind, solar, geothermal and biomass, clean technology attempts to reduce the use of Earth’s natural resources and cut energy consumption, emissions and waste. Recycling, the production of hybrid vehicles and green building developments are all considered aspects of the clean-tech sector.
California leads the nation in clean technology development, according to the report.
“Underlining all of this is the fact that we need to transition our economy to a much more clean energy base,” said Wilder. “To transition more to clean energy and fight climate change, reduce pollution, use energy and other natural resources much more efficiently, we need our states and cities to be leading the way.”
While Illinois ranked 8th on the Clean Edge scale of leading states, falling behind California, Massachusetts, Oregon, New York, Colorado, Washington and New Mexico, Chicago was 12th place among the 50 metro areas studied.
Despite more than 150,000 square feet of LEED certified buildings located within the municipality, Chicago’s staggeringly high concentration of greenhouse gas emissions from large facilities, such as power plants, refineries, industrial plants and waste facilities, kept the city from a top 10 ranking by Clean Edge.
The city produces the 8th most greenhouse gas emissions when compared to other major metro areas in the country, according to Clean Edge.
Chicago generated more than 10 metric tons of equivalent carbon dioxide (CO2e) per capita in 2012, while the city that rated best for carbon emissions, Raleigh, North Carolina, produced less than half of one metric ton per capita, according to the study.
Wilder said continuing along the course that saw the shut down of two of Chicago’s notorious coal-fired power plants, Fisk and Crawford, is the “single most important thing the city can do” to get the metropolis on a more environment-friendly course.
The Fisk and Crawford coal power plants, two of the state’s largest toxic chemical emitters, were closed in 2012.
“Encouraging more use of electric vehicles could help, as well,” he added, noting Clean Edge ranked Chicago in 33rd place for electric vehicles per capita in 2012.
According to the report, clean-tech deployment showed “historic” momentum in 2012. Nationwide, wind power grew by 28 percent; the use of solar power increased by 76 percent; and, according to researchers, 49 percent of the nation’s added electricity capacity was produced through renewable energy, a record-breaking high.
Disparate energy policies from state-to-state are hindering U.S. growth in the clean technology sector, though, according to Barry Mitchell, co-legislative director for the Environmental Law and Policy Center. He said America has a set of at least 50 “disjointed policies.”
“Each state has their own set of policies and then we have federal policies, and unfortunately they are not well coordinated,” he said.
Mitchell said world leaders, such as China and Western European nations, have instituted more structured clean technology incentives and programs that have resulted in a faster uptick of ideas and products.
He called for strong federal policy that supports clean technology first, as opposed to “dirty technology” such as coal-fired power.
“If we transition away from older infrastructure and older energy systems, to new clean-tech systems, then you will drive employment, you will drive new investments,” he said. “There is a litany of economic benefits.”
Jack Darin, director of the Sierra Club, Illinois Chapter, said Illinois still has a long way to go. He said too many state leaders are “still fixated on fossil fuel sources.”
“While there’s a growing recognition of the tremendous upside of a clean-tech economy ... We see people still clinging to the coal industry and celebrating the very dangerous trend of fracking,” he said. “Those are really not the industries we need to be focusing on if we want to maximize job creation and environmental benefits.”
Darin cited a study from the Illinois State University Center for Renewable Energy, which revealed Illinois’ largest 23 wind farms are expected to add $5.8 billion to local economies over the life of the projects.
The construction of wind farms generated more than 19,000 construction jobs and 814 local, long-term jobs, according to the report. Developments include Twin Groves and White Oak wind farms in McLean County, Streator Cayuga Ridge South Wind Farm in Livingston County, Rail Splitter Wind Farm in Tazewell and Logan counties, and Pioneer Trail in Iroquois and Ford counties. As of 2012, McLean County served as the leader in the state in terms of wind farm projects.
“Illinois is primed to reap the benefits of the clean-tech economy,” said Darin, adding that seven renewable energy firms have positioned their headquarters in Chicago.
Hitting the 25 percent renewable energy goal mandated in the state’s RPS with Illinois-based renewable energy is “critical” for the Prairie state’s economy, according to Darin.
He called for the passage of SB 103, which he said would make “important improvements” to our renewable energy target by implementing a competitive procurement process for renewable energy purchases under the Illinois Power Agency. Sponsored by State Sen. Michael Frerichs (D-Champaign), the bill has seen little momentum in the Illinois General Assembly.
“The clean economy is the next big opportunity for our country,” Darin said. “You can’t hire someone in China to make your home or office more efficient, you can’t generate electricity on other continent, those kind of things have to be done here and that’s a key environmental protection strategy and business strategy.”