Proposals to transition Illinois to 100% clean energy by 2050, saves or creates more than 280,000 jobs and new opportunities in historically disinvested communities

Labor coalition Climate Jobs Illinois today unveiled its package of policy recommendations to transition Illinois to a 100% clean energy economy by 2050. The comprehensive 10-point plan could save or create up to 280,000 jobs, significantly reduce the state’s emissions and help to close the growing income inequality gap in disadvantaged communities most impacted by climate change. One of the centerpieces of the plan is the Carbon-Free Schools Initiative.

“This proposal is ambitious but achievable. With the state’s clean energy resources, highly skilled workforce, ready-made apprenticeship programs and manufacturing infrastructure, we can build a cleaner and fairer future while putting working families first,” said Nikki Budzinski, Executive Director of Climate Jobs Illinois.  

The set of recommendations from CJI—which is independent of energy developers and utilities—comprise four main sectors: carbon-free power generation, just transition & equity, building efficiency and transportation. CJI’s plan offers a large-scale but practical blueprint for investing in clean-energy infrastructure that simultaneously maximizes emissions reductions to address the climate crisis and create or sustain union jobs and apprentice programs in areas hit hard by the current economic crisis as well as by historic underfunding. The recommendations cover:

Carbon Free-Power Generation Recommendations

    • Install up to 10 gigawatts of utility-scale solar power by 2030 with prevailing wage to save or create 76,000 jobs over about eight years.  This would include expanding the High Impact Business program to large solar energy facilities and introducing flexible renewable energy credits (REC) pricing to help incentivize large scale solar projects that will most cost effectively address the climate crisis.
    • Install up to 13 gigawatts of utility-scale wind power by 2030 with prevailing wage to save or create 86,500 jobs over about eight years.  In addition, enact a statewide zoning standard to reduce regulations and limit project delays for both utility-scale wind and solar projects.
  • Stabilize the current energy portfolio to guarantee adequate baseload availability and promote clean energy generation by keeping Illinois’ nuclear plants open to save 24,000 jobs. This can be achieved by including the Braidwood, Byron, Dresden and LaSalle nuclear plants in the Zero Emission Standard (ZES) program and adopting the Fixed Resource Requirement process, or a similar process that allows the nuclear fleet to remain competitive in future capacity auctions. Currently, only the Clinton and Quad Cities nuclear plants are included in the program and receive zero emission credits (ZECs), which compensate for the environmental benefits of carbon-free energy generation.
  • Strengthen transparency and accountability to protect consumers by creating a division in the Illinois Commerce Commission (ICC) to track renewable energy credits (RECs), zero-emission credits (ZECs) and other clean energy initiatives that utilize taxpayer or ratepayer dollars. It also calls for utilities to disclose revenues and expenses related to ZECs to the ICC and other reporting requirements for REC transitions, and it would require utilities to disclose workforce diversity and diversity goals and developers to provide detailed employment data, including local worker share, disadvantaged worker share, and wage and benefits information, among other disclosures.


Just Transition & Equity

  • Use the Illinois Works Jobs Program to establish a pipeline into joint apprenticeship programs for workers from disadvantaged communities by properly funding, staffing and building on the state-approved Illinois Works Jobs Program for the clean energy sector. The program, which was enacted in the 2019 Rebuild Illinois capital program, is a cooperative effort between developers, contractors, unions, nonprofits and community development agencies to recruit young workers, people of color, women, and other people from disadvantaged communities into joint labor-management apprenticeship programs and lifelong careers in construction. Climate Jobs Illinois is also proposing pilot programs in the Chicago area, with nonprofits like HIRE360, and in downstate Illinois to improve diversity in the trades and put Illinois Works to work.
  • Reform renewable energy credits (RECs) with an equity-centric points system to support working families. This can be achieved by prioritizing utility-scale RECs, requiring prevailing wages and project labor agreements (PLAs) on all projects receiving ratepayer-funded REC subsidies created by the State, prioritizing community-scale projects in low-income zip codes, and introducing a points system in awarding RECs in Illinois Power Agency auctions.  Additionally, developers and contractors would be required to disclose their workforce diversity to be eligible for RECs.  This recommendation also includes a clawback provision if utilities or developers fail to meet criteria.
  • Properly fund an effective energy and just transition for Illinois workers and communities impacted by the transition to a 100% clean energy economy. CJI proposes establishing a dedicated Just Transition Fund that provides 3-5 years of wage, health care and benefits replacements; 3-5 years of tax revenue in replacement for communities; in addition to other supports.  This recommendation also requires at least two years of advanced notice of plant closures, exploration of proposals such as coal to solar initiatives that keep workers employed, increased funding for the FEJA Jobs Training plan and establishing an Energy and Just Transition Taskforce in Illinois.


Building Efficiency

  • Create a Carbon-Free Schools Initiative that installs 4 gigawatts of solar power by 2030 and requires energy efficiency improvements at all public schools to create or save 67,300 jobs over about eight years. Public school districts currently account for 12 percent of total energy consumption in Illinois.

Climate Jobs Illinois today also announced the Illinois Federation of Teachers will join the coalition strongly in support of CJI’s Carbon Free Schools initiative. Taxpayers would save money through building efficiency upgrades and through an “ownership model,” with school districts owning the solar arrays themselves, allowing the energy savings to be realized immediately.

“I am proud that my union joined the Climate Jobs Illinois coalition to tackle the urgency of climate change and its impact on working people.  What a better way to help students understand how clean energy can put people to work and be part of the solution to climate change by reducing the carbon footprint of our schools. The state legislature should embrace Climate Jobs Illinois’ Carbon Free School initiative.” —Illinois Environmental Science Teacher Michael Beeftink, member, IFT Local 1274

Climate Jobs Illinois represents the hundreds of thousands of Illinois working men and women who are best suited to build Illinois’ new clean-energy economy from the ground up. The organization’s Governing Board includes Illinois AFL-CIO President and Chair Tim Drea, Illinois AFL-CIO Secretary-Treasurer Pat Devaney, Chicago Federation of Labor President Bob Reiter and Chicago & Cook County Building & Construction Trades Council President Ralph Affrunti.

Executive Committee members of Climate Jobs Illinois are: Chicago Regional Council of Carpenters, Illinois Federation of Teachers, International Association of Bridge, Structural, Ornamental and Reinforcing Iron Workers Union, International Brotherhood of Electrical Workers State Council, International Brotherhood of Electrical Workers Local 134, International Union of Operating Engineers Local 150, Laborers International Union of North America Great Lakes Region, Laborers International Union of North America Midwest Region, Service Employees International Union State Council and United Auto Workers Region 4.

Climate Jobs Illinois is a state affiliate of the Climate Jobs National Resource Center. CJI has partnered with The Project for Middle-Class Renewal at UIUC, Illinois Economic Policy Institute and Cornell University Worker Institute.