Illinois budget crisis could take money from Future Energy Jobs law – Government News

on Jun28

27 June 2017 | 6:58 pm

Little more than six months ago, Gov. Bruce Rauner signed the Future Energy Jobs Act into law.

Best known for the ratepayer-funded subsidies keeping open two Illinois nuclear plants that were slated for closure, the law also was a boon to a solar industry that has yet to find its footing in Illinois.

In his statement when he signed the bill, Rauner hailed the law’s provisions promoting “unprecedented wind and solar expansion,” in addition to “preserv(ing) zero-emission generation.”

Fast-forward to now, though, and Rauner is supporting legislation that potentially would undermine a key part of the law. Recent legislation introduced by Senate Republicans in Springfield with the governor’s backing would divert for general uses up to $160 million from ratepayer-generated funds the law allocated to develop solar power in low-income neighborhoods.

The proposal is one of many in the bill, aimed at resolving the remarkably stubborn budget impasse that threatens to make Illinois the nation’s first state with junk-rated credit.

Environmental groups that signed onto the compromise bill because of its investment in green power are dismayed and sounding the alarm.

The solar funds were “a critical leg of what was a difficult compromise,” said Jack Darin, Illinois director of the Sierra Club and a vocal backer of the law.

He called it a crucial goal of the clean energy jobs coalition that aligned with the state’s largest power generator, Exelon, to get such a far-reaching bill through Springfield late last year—a time, like now, of historically bitter division in the state capital.

“We wanted to ensure that communities impacted by fossil fuels were targeted for the benefits of the clean energy economy,” he said.

“Rauner appears to be OK with deleting this very important program,” he added.

A spokeswoman for Rauner didn’t comment in time for publication of this story.

To be clear, the money still may be spent on what it was meant for. A budget deal by the end of this week, when credit ratings agencies have said they will downgrade the state again without a budget agreement, is far from assured.

And if there is a deal, Democrats may not agree to divert the solar money as part of it.

But a state in as desperate need for money as this one often is hard-pressed to bypass large buckets of it sitting there for the taking.

In 2015, Democrats and Republicans agreed to divert nearly $100 million of ratepayer-funded cash for renewable development as part of a stopgap budget.

The difference then, though, is that the money was effectively frozen due to glitches in the state’s clean-power law in effect at the time and wouldn’t have been spent anytime soon on renewable projects. This time around, a process is just starting to get underway to select different kinds of solar developments in low-income urban and rural areas for funding.

The projects would be slated for next year.

They are meant to include community solar farms that would enable apartment and condo dwellers to invest in clean power even though they don’t have access to their roofs. They also would include residential rooftop solar and utility-scale projects with the potential to make Commonwealth Edison’s power supply more green.

The silver lining for environmentalists: Future legislatures tempted to swipe funds for future renewable projects won’t be able to. Under the law, the state is transitioning to a funding mechanism that slaps a surcharge on all electric bills and sends the money directly to the utility for purchases from green sources.



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