Nick Magrisso, Policy Advocate, Midwest Program, Chicago

Illinois has a great story to tell when it comes to creating clean energy jobs that provide Illinois families and businesses with clean, affordable choices of energy, that help us meet our 21st Century resource demands. Clean Jobs Illinois, a report being released today by Clean Energy Trust, Environmental Entrepreneurs (E2), Environmental Law and Policy Center, and the Natural Resources Defense Council, provides a first of its kind, in-depth look at clean energy employment in Illinois. These aren’t modeling-driven projections of jobs in the future. Rather, we surveyed firms to find out who works in the clean energy economy today. Illinois’ clean energy industry employs an astounding 96,875 workers and is expected to grow by 9% in 2014 –pushing clean energy employment into six figures by year’s end. 

Without question, Illinois’ lagging economy needs exactly this kind of growth. And as policymakers and political candidates throw their weight behind job-creation strategies, clean energy should be among the top priorities for putting people to work. These jobs range from engineering, research to manufacturing and assembly jobs; jobs that can’t be outsourced because they employ locally for the installation and maintenance sectors that make our state and local economies more productive and competitive.  

Clean energy plays a significant role in Illinois’ economy in large part because of smart policies that spur growth in renewable energy, energy efficiency and alternative transit sectors. According to the report, 62% of businesses surveyed in the clean energy industry focus on energy efficiency, the cheapest, cleanest energy resource we can invest in. That’s no coincidence that Illinois is leading the way with energy efficiency businesses. Illinois has one of the nation’s leading energy efficiency policies, according to the American Council for an Energy-Efficient Economy.  

Illinois’ Energy Efficiency Resource Standard (EERS) requires utilities to reduce demand by 2 percent each year by offering a series of robust programs for small and large energy consumers to bring down their energy demand. By reducing energy demand, we bring down energy prices and our emissions. In fact, energy efficiency technologies have brought U.S. household electricity down to its lowest levels since 2001. And between now and 2016, electricity demand in the Midwest is projected to decline annually by almost 1 percent. The EERS is not only a smart policy, but we could and should being doing more to further develop the energy efficiency resources in Illinois and bring down energy rates and grow jobs.

Despite these success stories, many people still don’t know what energy efficiency is and how important it is to our economy. The simplest way to describe energy efficiency is doing more with less, hence the “efficiency.” Everything from automating your thermostats, updating your appliances, and insulating your homes, reduces your energy demand and contributes to energy efficiency. Late last year, I visited an Energy Efficiency Expo in Rosemont, Illinois, and spoke with a few leading firms that go to work each day and make our energy more affordable and cleaner thanks to smart policies like the EERS. Watch this short YouTube video to learn more about the energy efficiency industry here in Illinois:  

As highlighted in the Clean Jobs report, Illinois’ clean energy economy is alive and well, and it is where we should invest in our future. There’s plenty of foundation to build on and lots more we could do to improve our state economy by investing in clean jobs. Clean jobs are not only a dominant part of the Illinois economy currently, (the clean energy industry is larger than the real estate and accounting industries combined, according to the Clean Jobs Illinois report) but there’s tremendous opportunity for even bigger gains. Our elected officials should seize the moment as they begin to campaign and debate how to build our economy. The clear path forward calls for prioritizing policies that maximize the benefits of energy efficiency and renewable energy and ensuring that we take full advantage of the opportunities we have with a rapidly maturing clean energy workforce right here in Illinois. If there’s one thing that the Clean Job Illinois report shows, it’s that good clean jobs are more than possible, they are here to stay and Illinois has the momentum to lead!