By Bryce Gray
Illinois energy priorities remain vague as Republican governor Bruce Rauner begins his term. Although Rauner occasionally hinted at his energy agenda while campaigning, he has not yet tipped his hand on statewide issues such as alternative fuels, carbon emissions or nuclear power since taking office.
“There’s more that we don’t know than we do know,” said Jack Darin, director of the Sierra Club’s Illinois Chapter. “Gov. Rauner did not speak much to energy issues during his campaign except as it relates to extraction,” said Darin, alluding to Rauner’s vocal campaign support for Illinois-based fracking and coal mining.
With state fracking regulations approved in November, energy companies can seek permits to drill.
While Darin characterized fracking and coal mining as areas of “great concern” for environmentalists, he does not expect Rauner’s energy policy to solely aid fossil fuel production within the state.
“He recognizes the state’s responsibility to come up with a plan to reduce carbon pollution,” said Darin. “Those are encouraging words. The test will be whether or not Gov. Rauner realizes the job creation potential and the economic investment that can be made by investing in clean energy for Illinois’ future.”
President Barack Obama identified climate change as a national security priority in his State of the Union address last week, and touted America’s growing renewable energy sector as a key to environmental and economic improvement.
“The best scientists in the world are all telling us that our activities are changing the climate, and if we do not act forcefully, we’ll continue to see rising oceans, longer, hotter heat waves, dangerous droughts and floods, and massive disruptions that can trigger greater migration, conflict, and hunger around the globe,” Obama said. “The Pentagon says that climate change poses immediate risks to our national security. We should act like it.”
Meanwhile, the state’s energy outlook calls for balance in a report issued earlier this month by Rauner’s transition committee.
The transition report doesn’t outline intended carbon cuts, but calls for developing a 10-year energy plan that “balances traditional energy, renewable energy, and energy efficiency; improves investment in energy infrastructure; and supports innovation in the energy sector.”
Energy efficiency was a particular area of emphasis, with the committee citing it as “one of the most cost-effective energy strategies, since reducing energy usage costs far less than creating new generating capacity.”
The Environmental Law and Policy Center, based in Chicago, took an optimistic interpretation of the energy plan outlined by the transition committee report.
“The Rauner Administration’s transition plans encourage Illinois policy actions to accelerate renewable energy and advance energy efficiency that are positive solutions to climate change problems,” said Howard Learner, center executive director, in a statement. “This is a smart investment path to diversify Illinois’ energy supplies, achieve better reliability, create more jobs and reduce pollution for a cleaner Illinois energy future.”
The diversified energy portfolio Rauner is expected to pursue was reflected by the transition team’s subcommittee focusing on energy, co-chaired by executives from the not-for-profit Clean Energy Trust and Marathon Petroleum.
Under state legislation passed in 2007, the state has committed to a threshold of 25 percent renewable energy usage by 2025. That level presently stands at just 15 to 16 percent according to Gabriela Martin, renewable energy program officer for the Illinois Clean Energy Community Foundation.
“We’re about 10 years and 10 percentage points away,” said Martin. “We’ve got a ways to go.”
Various state Republican officials could not be reached for comment. Co-chairs of the transition team energy committee were also unable to comment for this story.