Much of our excitement surrounding the Future Energy Jobs Act (FEJA) – groundbreaking energy legislation passed by the Illinois General Assembly in December 2016 – was based on the creation of the Illinois Solar for All Program.
This innovative new program makes clean energy accessibleto more communities throughout our state and generates green job opportunities in solar installation. It creates employment training programs and job incentives for hiring 2,000 returning citizens (persons with records), and alumni of the foster care system, who face challenges to employment. With incentives for solar development in economically-disadvantaged communities and areas that have historically suffered the burdens of pollution, this innovative new program provides a critical environmental justice focus in the transition to a green economy.
To enact the Illinois Solar for All Program, FEJA designated funding from the Renewable Energy Resources Fund (RERF). Supported by alternative retail electric suppliers (not tax dollars), the RERF was initially created to invest in new renewable development. Over the past several years, however, more than $200 million was collected but only $30 million had been used for new renewable projects because of broken policy.
With FEJA, these funds could finally be used for renewable energy —as they were intended – and with an emphasis on equity and justice.
Unfortunately, RERF funds were at risk for budget negotiation “sweeps” by legislators and the governor during the legislative session this spring. Through legislative visits, emails, phone calls, and our Annual Lobby Day in Springfield, faithful citizen activists urged legislators to defend RERF funds with the Environmental Justice Resolution (HR 234/SR 353). Thanks to this hard work, the budgets proposed by Governor Rauner, Senate Republicans, and Senate Democrats all preserved RERF Funds, but a budget has yet to be enacted.
We celebrate this small victory, and as we urge legislators to pass a responsible budget this summer, we continue to highlight the importance of this program and of avoiding sweeping of these crucial funds.