Illinois solar companies say they’re ‘held hostage’ by Statehouse Gridlock

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This article is the result of a partnership between Inside Climate News and the Chicago Sun-Times.

The number of rooftop solar installations in Illinois has plummeted, as state incentives for consumers have dried up amid a standoff in the legislature over major energy legislation. ‘energy.

After a state incentive program ran out of money late last year, only 313 small rooftop solar projects were completed statewide in the three-month period ending June 30, up from 2,908 a year earlier, according to Illinois Power Agency records. These numbers represent most of the rooftop solar projects in Illinois.

The state’s program has reduced the cost of installing solar power in a home by several thousand dollars.

Funding problems have also slowed down hundreds of workers, hurting an infant, once fast-growing industry.

Unless lawmakers can send Illinois Governor JB Pritzker a fix by the end of the month, solar business owners are warning the situation could get worse.

“The story here is whether these Illinois lawmakers are going to choose the future or, frankly, choose the past,” said Josh Lutton, president of Certasun, a Chicago-area solar panel installer.

The number of Certasun’s solar installations this year is half of what it was around this time last year, according to Lutton, who has put dozens of workers on leave following the legislative deadlock.

Lawmakers agreed months ago on the details of increased public funding for solar power. But this plan is part of a larger energy bill this was delayed by disagreements over state aid for three Exelon nuclear power plants and a proposal to phase out coal and natural gas.

Saving nuclear power plants and thousands of jobs together has been the centerpiece of the legislation. Exelon threatened to close two nuclear power plants– to Byron and Morris – this fall, unless the energy bill goes through this month.

Lisa Albrecht, owner of All Bright Solar in Chicago, warned lawmakers over a year ago that, with no solution this year to maintain state incentives to buy and install solar panels, consumer demand would dive.

“It was really tough,” said Albrecht.

This drop in demand can be seen in the net figures of solar companies.

Michelle Knox, owner of WindSolarUSA, a renewable energy consultant and project manager in Springfield, said her business had lost about $ 6,400 through mid-June, compared to a profit of about $ 34,000 at the same time. ‘last year.

“Uncertainty creates chaos,” Knox said.

Last year, Illinois had 5,526 jobs in the solar industry, down 391 jobs from 2019, according to the Clean Jobs Midwest report from Clean Energy Trust and Environmental Entrepreneurs.

That figure does not include layoffs this year, when the effects of the pandemic and uncertainty over state funding pushed solar companies to cut costs.

Solar industry traders say layoffs, which they estimate to be in the hundreds, only show part of the picture as, despite past demand, companies are slow to create jobs with uncertainty over incentives .

In 2016, Illinois stepped up its solar incentives with the Future Energy Jobs Act, a law that combined nuclear bailouts with large investments in renewable energy. But some of the renewable energy programs took years to develop and were overwhelmed by demand that far exceeded funding.

Illinois lawmakers failed to agree on an energy bill at the end of the May legislative session and called on environmentalists, unions and industry representatives solar to find an agreement.

The stalemate has little to do with the solar industry. It focuses on the fate of natural gas and coal power plants, including the Settlement of Prairie State in southern Illinois which is supported financially by dozens of cities in Illinois, including Naperville and Batavia.

Senate Speaker Don Harmon has said he would like to recall Senators to Springfield at the end of the month to vote on an energy bill. The Illinois House is also expected to return to take its own vote.

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In early August, a group representing the unions, led by the Illinois AFL-CIO, told Pritzker it was unable to reach an agreement with environmental groups.

Referring to a deal to keep Prairie State open until 2045, a change from the previous plan to close it in 2035, Pritzker replied: “I negotiated in good faith because pro-coal forces moved the poles. goal throughout this process. ”

Pat Devaney, AFL-CIO Illinois secretary-treasurer, said the unions did not want to delay the effort.

“We all have the same goals that we achieve in the carbon-free generation,” Devaney said. “It’s just like we do.”

Last week, Pritzker told a press conference that he wanted lawmakers to vote on a compromise. “This bill that’s before them now is about 97 percent approved, so it’s just that last little bit that people need to come in,” he said.

Solar business leaders and owners compare the legislative debate to hostage-taking, as popular provisions like solar incentives are delayed due to lawmakers’ insistence on passing a single energy bill that also includes more controversial and less popular proposals like the nuclear bailout. .

“Everyone agrees that we need clean energy,” said Albrecht. “But we are being held hostage.

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