Illinois’ electric grid needs shoring up, and lawmakers and regulators can make it happen

The Illinois Commerce Commission recently rejected ComEd’s proposed rate hike and ordered it to return with a new plan. Critics say the decision makes it harder to invest in infrastructure.

Pat Nabong/Sun-Times

More than three years ago, Gov. J.B. Pritzker signed into law one of the nation’s most aggressive state-level climate bills. The Climate and Equitable Jobs Act puts Illinois on the path to a 100% clean energy future by phasing out all fossil fuels by 2050.

As the state’s biggest union of energy workers, the International Brotherhood of Electrical Workers was one of CEJA’s strongest supporters, not just because we want to do our part in combating the climate crisis but because CEJA is a jobs bill that opens up opportunities for Illinois residents, especially those from disadvantaged communities, for middle-class jobs in the energy industry.

But big promises demand genuine followup.

Making our climate goals a reality requires a serious investment in 21st century infrastructure that can ensure a steady supply of reliable, affordable and clean power to Illinois residents and communities.

But the longer it takes to make this new energy infrastructure a reality, the harder it will be to reach CEJA’s ambitious objectives.

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That is why we are alarmed about the recent decision by the Illinois Commerce Commission to reject Commonwealth Edison’s and Ameren’s grid investment plans.

The end effect of this decision is to put off the hard work required to meet the state’s renewable energy goals to another day. It’s a decision to continue policies that discourage outside investment in our state’s climate and energy future.

Illinois policies discourage outside investment

Multiple independent analysts have cited Illinois as being one of the worst investing environments for energy projects in the country, and that means proposed projects here sit idle while neighboring states pass us by.

Failure to act means jeopardizing reliability and raising costs as fossil-fuel facilities go offline without the renewable infrastructure to get solar and wind power to the communities that need it.

We are already seeing electricity prices spike in many parts of the state.

The ICC also voted in November to “pause” $265 million in natural gas pipeline replacement work, a troubling decision for both safety and reliability.

Transitioning to a 100% clean power mix means relying on an all-of-the-above energy strategy to get there, and postponing critical investments in any energy infrastructure puts Illinois that much further from its goal.

The question we have for lawmakers is this: If not now, when?

The IBEW has the skilled workforce to make the state’s clean energy future a reality. What we do not have is time.

By putting the freeze on new energy infrastructure projects, the ICC’s ruling will negatively impact thousands of energy jobs throughout Illinois.

With tens of billions of federal and state dollars going to infrastructure, skilled electrical workers are in high demand.

If my members can’t find work here in Illinois, there are plenty of other opportunities in neighboring states. And once they leave, getting them back is tough.

If Illinois is not willing to move on building the infrastructure critical to CEJA’s success now, it will not only jeopardize my members’ jobs it will put Illinois’ ambitious climate goals at risk.

Lawmakers and regulators cannot allow side agendas to hold up long overdue investments in our aging transmission system.

Pritzker and members of the General Assembly from both parties worked hard to pass CEJA. There was a lot of hope in 2021 that Illinois would set the standard for combating climate change and serve as a model for a successful transition to a clean energy future.

But wishful thinking will not get Illinois to where it needs to be when it comes to making CEJA’s promises a reality.

Only a serious commitment by lawmakers and the ICC to making a massive investment in modernizing our electrical infrastructure will meet the demands of tomorrow’s clean-energy economy.

Business and labor are ready to get to work.

We have the workforce and the resources to make Illinois carbon-free by 2050. What we need is the will from Springfield and the ICC to get the job done.

Michael Clemmons is sixth district vice president of the International Brotherhood of Electrical Workers.

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