As readers of this blog have discovered, I have a growing concern, no, actually it’s panic, about the cascading effects of global warming. I used to think it was about my grandkids, but if we don’t do something fast, my kids will suffer serious consequences, too. In fact, people all over the world are already coping with the impact of a changing climate.
I recently attended a training session led by former Vice President Al Gore. He was teaching those of us in attendance how to present, to anyone who will listen, the results of his Climate Reality Project team’s extensive research about the causes and consequences of climate change and the very doable solutions.
Now, I have to do something with all those new facts.
But first, I want to talk about something going on here in Illinois that bears directly on climate change.
Dueling bills are in the General Assembly hopper, including one backed by Exelon, which owns six nuclear plants in the state; one backed by ComEd, an Exelon subsidiary that is the only distributor of electricity in northern Illinois; and one backed by the Clean Jobs Coalition, whose members include a number of leading environmental groups and a group of renewable energy providers – mostly through solar and wind.
Electric utilities that burn fossil fuel, mostly coal and natural gas, to generate the power they sell, pour more climate-changing carbon pollution into the earth’s atmosphere than any other single source. And there are still coal-burning power plants in Illinois. Gore’s Climate Reality Project, the group he founded to raise awareness about global warming, says that these dirty power plants are responsible for 40 percent of U.S. carbon pollution.
There’s plenty of information about the Clean Jobs Bill, but briefly it would:
- Raise the state’s “renewable portfolio standard” (RPS) to 35 percent by 2030, which requires providers of electricity to get 35 percent of what they sell from renewable sources, principally wind and solar, up from the current 25 percent by 2025;
- Require electrical utilities to invest in energy efficiency measures and create incentives for consumers to do so;
- Cap carbon dioxide emissions from power plants to meet federal regulations;
- Create a cap-and-trade system, administered by the Illinois Environmental Protection Agency, similar to the one that is up and running in California;
- Set aside funds to help low-income households pay their electric bills;
- Establish environmental justice protections. Minority communities have historically been the most heavily burdened by environmental degradation. The bill would recognize that fact and put corrective measures in place.
Clean jobs – such work as manufacturing and installing solar and wind equipment, installing energy-efficient technology and adding insulation to homes and buildings – are the coalition’s major selling point. They assert that the bill will eventually add 32,000 jobs per year across Illinois — on top of the 100,000 clean-energy jobs that already exist in the state” (based on a report from the Illinois Science & Technology Institute).
I’m all for clean jobs, but this push, which leads most of the coalition’s public relations, doesn’t take into account or provide estimates on the loss of jobs at coal plants and other dirty-energy employers. Good riddance to those jobs, but let’s tell the whole story.
Still, the bill moves the state in the right direction. If only.
The politics of Illinois haven’t yet turned in favor of climate action, and the state’s big newspapers aren’t helping, which means a difficult way forward for the clean jobs measure. Electric utilities wield much more than their share of lobbying clout here in Illinois, and are pushing competing bills. And the legislators are consumed with the politically explosive task of concocting a budget for the upcoming fiscal year that gets the state out from under a crushing multi-billion dollar deficit.
The Chicago Sun-Times and the Chicago Tribune have both editorialized on the energy-policy debate without even a mention of global warming.
The Sun-Times at least talks about making Illinois “greener,” and calls the 35 percent RPS “a reasonable goal.”
The Tribune, on the other hand, says the coalition bill “would give a big advantage to wind and solar providers,” (Yes!) that “would hike your electric bill.” And it pooh-poohs the more progressive RPS as possibly “unreachable” because the state “hasn’t even come close” to the current 25 percent target.
No. It’s not unreachable. It is technologically and economically entirely possible and sorely needed. It may be unreachable because the political will isn’t there to make it happen. But part of that is due to the media’s lack of informing the public about the consequences of not encouraging renewable energy. The so-called invisible hand of the marketplace just isn’t working here!
Worst of all, both papers seems to suggest that low rates for electricity is the most important criterion for energy policy.
“As for the legislature, it should spend less time picking winners and losers in the energy industry, and more time promoting head-on competition,” concluded the Trib.
“It is crucial that the end result is a balanced Illinois Clean Jobs Bill that promotes a cleaner environment in a way that does not drive up electricity bills,” the Sun-Times said.
What’s the matter with these people? They don’t even mention climate change as a factor in determining energy policy. The Tribune notes that the price of electricity could go up 2 percent per year with the Clean Jobs Bill. But they don’t take into account the bill’s incentives for making homes more energy efficient, which could save households more than the increased prices would cost them.
And they don’t weigh this against the cost of global warming. Or even against the likelihood that costs for wind and solar technology will drop, bringing electric rates down fairly quickly.
The cost of crystalline silicon solar cells, for example, has dropped from $79.40 per watt in 1976 to 69 cents in 2014, according to Bloomberg New Energy Finance.
The Trib’s kind of thinking is leading us down the path to catastrophic climate change. We’d better change it, and very soon.
If you want to talk to your legislators, the bills are HB2607 – Chief sponsor Rep. Elaine Nekritz and SB1485 – Chief sponsor Sen. Don Harmon. To find out who your legislators are, or what their contact information is, click here, and my good friends at AFSCME Council 31 will tell you everything you need to know.