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Ultimate Guide to Renewable Energy in Illinois

Although Illinois was an early leader in environmental protection, it’s been slow to build its renewable energy systems. But now that’s starting to change. The state has ambitious new goals for renewable energy and is making big investments in wind and solar.

Back in 1970, Illinois became the first U.S. state to create its own Environmental Protection Act. However, for many years the Prairie State’s environmental efforts didn’t extend to renewable energy. But since 2001, Illinois has set targets for renewable energy use and made investments in wind energy and solar power. Today, the state has some of the cleanest electricity in the nation, with about two-thirds coming from carbon-free sources.

The history of renewable energy in Illinois

Illinois set its first voluntary targets for renewable energy use in 2001. They called for the state to get 5% of its electricity from renewable sources by 2010 and 15% by 2020. In 2007, the state adopted an official Renewable Portfolio Standard (RPS) that raised the renewable energy goal each year. The final target was 25% renewables by 2025, with 75% of that from wind and 6% from solar.

Around the same time, the state also adopted policies to promote energy efficiency. The 2004 Energy Efficient Commercial Building Act set efficiency standards for businesses. Another law passed five years later, did the same for residences. And the 2007 Energy Efficiency Resource Standard required utilities to help their customers reduce their energy use.

In 2016, Illinois passed the Future Energy Jobs Act (FEJA). It invested over $750 million in low-income areas of the state, with a focus on renewable energy. It also established the state’s community solar program.

The sunset shining behind homes

How can Illinois residents take advantage of renewable energy?

Illinois offers a variety of programs to help residents choose green energy for their homes or businesses. These perks can save you money on the cost of a solar setup or reduce your electric bill.

Net metering in Illinois

Illinois utilities are required to give their customers credit for energy they produce from solar panels or residential wind. Owners of small systems—40 kilowatts (kW) or less—receive credit at the full retail rate. Those with systems between 40 kW and 2 megawatts (MW) earn credit based on how much money they saved the utility. If you produce more energy than you use in any month, your bill credits roll over for up to a year.

Tax exemptions and credits

Installing solar panels increases the value of your home. But in the Land of Lincoln, it doesn’t raise your property tax bill. A state law exempts the value of a photovoltaic (PV) system from contributing to assessed value of home. According to Ecowatch, this exemption saves the average solar user about $8,845 over the life of the system.

Illinois residents also qualify for the federal Investment Tax Credit (ITC). When you install a PV system, you can take 30% of the cost off your federal tax bill. This adds up to over $6,000 in savings for the average Illinois homeowner. The ITC will be available through 2034, but the rate drops after 2032.

Illinois Solar for All Program

The Illinois Solar for All (ISFA) program helps low-income households go solar with no up-front cost. Instead, they pay for the system by sharing the Renewable Energy Credits (RECs) they earn for the energy they produce. The program is open to homeowners and renters who earn no more than 80% of their county’s median income.

Illinois Shines

Illinois Shines gives residents with PV systems credit for the solar power they contribute to the grid and enables community solar. Systems earn one credit for every megawatt-hour of energy those systems produce in their first 15 years. Those credits are automatically logged and sold to utilities, which use them to meet their RPS goals. For a small solar setup (10 kW or less), each credit is worth about $80. Illinois Shines is open to anyone whose solar power system is installed by a state-approved vendor.

Local incentives

In addition to these statewide programs, there are a couple of benefits available in specific localities. Chicago residents can use Chicago Solar Express Program when installing a new solar setup. This program expedites the approval process for PV systems and reduces fees.

Commonwealth Edison (ComEd) offers a Distributed Generation (DG) Rebate program for its customers. Homes and others with systems under 100 kW can get a credit of $300 per kW for their solar panels. There’s an additional $300-per-kW rebate for adding energy storage devices, such as batteries. For businesses, nonprofits, and community solar projects, both credits are $250 per kW.

Wind and solar capacity in Illinois

Illinois is a leader in wind energy. In 2021, it had about 6,900 MW of large-scale wind farms (producing 1 MW or more). That makes it the fifth-biggest producer of wind power in the nation. Wind generated 9% of the state’s electricity in 2020.

The Prairie State’s solar capacity is smaller but growing fast. At the end of 2022, Illinois had 2,036 MW of installed solar power. Roughly two-thirds of the state’s solar power comes from small-scale generation, mostly individual rooftops. The state’s biggest solar facility is the 200-MW Prairie Solar Farm, which came online in 2021.

Illinois is also a leading producer of biofuels. Its abundant corn and soy fields produce roughly 1.7 billion gallons of ethanol and 174 million gallons of biodiesel per year.

Multiple wind turbines on rolling green farmland.

Reducing reliance on natural gas in Illinois through renewable energy

So far, Illinois is not on track to meet its renewable energy goals. According to the Energy Information Administration, the state did reduce its use of natural gas for power generation in 2021. However, it was coal—an even dirtier fossil fuel—that took its place.

To address this problem, the Prairie State is working on a new Renewable Energy Access Plan. It updates the state’s RPS to 50% renewable energy by the year 2040. It also calls for 100% of the state’s power to come from carbon-free sources (including nuclear energy) by 2050. And it requires power plants to eliminate greenhouse gas emissions by 2045.

Renewable energy sector employment in Illinois

According to a report from Clean Jobs Midwest, clean energy employed 120,775 Illinois residents at the end of 2021. That’s over 40% of all energy sector employees in the state. Most of these jobs were in the field of energy efficiency. Illinois employed 82,500 workers manufacturing and installing energy-efficient equipment, lighting, HVAC, and building materials.

However, the fastest-growing field was advanced transportation. Factories making electric vehicles employed over 13,600 Illinois workers, a jump of 28% from previous year.

An electric vehicle plugged into its charger.

Recent legislation on energy policy in Illinois

The Prairie State’s biggest energy law in recent years was the 2021 Climate and Equitable Jobs Act (CEJA). This sweeping law aims to drive the state toward a just clean energy transition. Its many provisions include:

  • Requiring fossil fuel plants to zero out their emissions by 2045 at latest.
  • Doubling statewide investment in renewable energy.
  • Creating new workforce development programs to help move fossil fuel workers into new jobs.
  • Establishing a new rebate program for purchases of electric vehicles and adding funding for new EV charging stations.
  • Eliminating customer deposits and late fees for low-income utility customers and eliminating online payment fees for all customers.

The future of Illinois solar

The CEJA provided a huge boost to the solar industry in Illinois. The Clean Jobs Midwest report says it grew by over 10% in 2022, reaching over 6,000 workers. In the months following the bill’s passage, over 8,000 solar projects that had been wait-listed moved forward. This growth will be essential for the state to meet its new RPS goal of 50% renewable energy by 2040.

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