Illinois’ solar industry sees continued growth with help of 2021 climate law – Daily Herald

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Over the last eight years, small-scale solar projects in Illinois have grown from 1,000 to nearly 80,000.

Industry leaders say the explosive growth can be traced back to the state’s massive climate bill, the Climate and Equitable Jobs Act or CEJA. The legislative package, passed in September 2021, put Illinois on the climate leaderboard and built upon the state’s previous climate bill, the Future Energy Jobs Act.

Two and a half years later, solar companies are expanding throughout the state, solar jobs are growing faster than any other state in the Midwest, and CEJA programs continue coming online — though some are moving faster than others.

Part of the legislation’s solar success has been due to the long-term funding and goals it put in place, namely reaching 50% renewable energy by 2050, said Amy Heart, the senior vice president of policy for Sunrun.

“Having that stable market and knowing that you can count on the program being in place next year and the following year, companies across the board are able to make investments in communities and be able to expand,” she said. “And that’s what we’ve seen over the over the last two years.”

One way those investments have materialized is in major solar companies expanding in and bringing their headquarters to Illinois. For instance, Sunrun opened its third branch office in Peoria shortly after CEJA passed, joining offices in Bolingbrook and Des Plaines.

“Because of CEJA, we were able to then say, ‘Great, we can now make an additional investment in the state and offer home solar solutions in the Peoria area,’ and then also hire up and partner with Illinois Central College and a number of other training programs to bring individuals into the workforce,” Heart said.

More recently, the nation’s largest community solar provider, Nexamp, announced in January its Chicago office would serve as the company’s second national headquarters. The expansion, which looks to add 50 team members in Chicago by 2026, is part of more than $2 billion in planned investments in Illinois through its existing projects and development pipeline, the solar giant said in a news release.

Nexamp CEO Zaid Ashai commended Gov. J.B. Pritzker’s leadership in securing passage of the Climate and Equitable Jobs Act in 2021.

“Illinois is our fastest growing market,” he said in the release. “But the state is far more than just an attractive market for solar generation — for Nexamp, it’s a state which shares our vision of a cleaner, more equitable energy future powered by a diverse, equitable, and skilled workforce.”

Heart, who’s also a board member of the Solar Energy Industries Association, added Illinois’ solar jobs growth has taken strides since CEJA’s passage, particularly in the residential and commercial rooftop sector “where the workforce happens.”

Through CEJA initiatives such as the Solar Training Pipeline Program and the Multi-Cultural Jobs Program, local chapters of organizations like Chicago Urban League, National Latino Education Institute and OAI have received funding for workforce training.

Between 2017 and 2022, Illinois’ solar jobs have grown by 58%, according to the Interstate Renewable Energy Council’s 2022 solar jobs census, logging more than 5,600 jobs in 2022.

• Jenny Whidden is a climate change and environment writer working with the Daily Herald through a partnership with Report For America supported by The Nature Conservancy. To help support her work with a tax-deductible donation, see dailyherald.com/rfa.

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A Sunrun technician installs a power box for solar panels.
Courtesy of Sunrun

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Solar panels on a home.
Courtesy of Sunrun

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Solar panels on the roof of Highland Middle School in Libertyville.
Courtesy of District 70

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Solar panels on the roof of World Bioproducts LLC building in Libertyville.
Courtesy of Bob Ward

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