n late 2021, Illinois Gov. JB Pritzker signed into law the Climate and Equitable Jobs Act (CEJA), a 29-year plan to transition the state and its workforce to 100% clean energy sources. The document sets forth regulations for fossil fuel companies and puts forth major incentives for electric vehicle and solar companies to bring their business to Illinois.
Pritzker called the bill the “most significant step Illinois has taken in a generation” to move toward a clean energy future. The bill spent three years in deliberation by lawmakers and labor and environmental advocacy groups and expands on the 2016 Future Energy Jobs Act (FEJA). CEJA places Illinois as the leader in climate advocacy in the Midwest and preserves the workforce and revenue many feared would be lost on the path to an environmentally stable future. The goals in the legislation are ambitious and exacting but stand atop of the shoulders of infrastructure and workforce investment that give companies plenty of resources to reorient and make some green of their own in the process.
ComEd previously administrated three clean energy workforce programs under the Future Energy Jobs Act (FEJA) that are now shifting into DCEO hands. Although the company will no longer lead the initiatives, Diana Sharpe, vice president of Economic and Workforce Development at ComEd, is still excited for the transition. “You go from FEJA with $30 million over 12 years, to CEJA, with $180 million annually. Those are huge numbers and huge investment,” says Sharpe. “The level of resources that can be dedicated to this work is going to be a game-changer.”
Where Business Is Law
The bill is 1,000 pages long and extensively details the architecture for achieving its forward-thinking goals. One way CEJA helps is by doubling government subsidies for renewable energy to $580 million per year to help meet the new standards of raising renewable usage to 40% by 2030. In exciting news for Rivian and Lion Electric, one of the goals is to put a million electric vehicles on the road by 2030, funneling business into electric car manufacturing plants throughout the state.
Another way CEJA is alluring? By lowering energy costs for everyone and avoiding a federal regulatory ruling that would’ve cost consumers $1.7 billion in power over the next decade. A study by Mark Pruitt, former Illinois Power Agency director, found that getting to 40% renewables by 2030 would lower electricity costs in the state by $1.2 billion. This is $2.9 billion saved in the next 10 years for everyone — businesses, the homes of the people who run them, the workers staffing them, and the facilities producing their goods.
Notably, CEJA founded 15 workforce development and community investment programs, and many more preexisting programs will receive extra funding. These programs will all be under the administration of the Department of Commerce and Economic Opportunity (DCEO), which will oversee their implementation and spending. Let’s look at a few of them alongside the input of DCEO Director Sylvia Garcia.
The Clean Energy Prime Contractor Accelerator
CEJA features one incubator program and one accelerator program. The Clean Energy Prime Contractor Accelerator is targeted toward already established contractors seeking to expand their capacity during the transitional phases of CEJA’s enactment. Amid concerns of grid capacity, this accelerator program is eager to empower contractors. Participants will receive five-year-long coaching to develop and deliver a business plan, alongside up to $1 million in support grants annually. The holistic program also focuses on soft skills and offers mentorship and support for bid preparation.
The Clean Energy Contractor Incubator Program
This program is designed to support smaller contractors and small energy businesses. The program consists of 13 network hubs around the state and provides low-cost capital and financial support. The hubs also aid in business operations such as obtaining permits and insurance, providing training and recruitment, and networking with companies seeking contractors. Director Sylvia Garcia of DCEO is particularly excited about the incubator and accelerator programs. “They all help small businesses in the clean energy space grow and prosper within the ecosystem,” says Garcia. Both this program and the Clean Jobs Workforce Hubs Network Program will select their partner organizations through a competitive Notice of Funding Opportunity process.
Clean Jobs Workforce Hubs Network Program
The Clean Jobs Workforce Hubs Network implements the development of another 13 hub sites across the state, offering training, certification preparation and skill development in clean energy industries. The locations of these hubs are in the same 13 communities as the incubator program but operate as separate programs and facilities. The hubs are run by local community-based organizations and benefit workers seeking their first, second or third career. The training offered will be aligned with a designated Clean Jobs Curriculum (also developed under the act) to ensure educational quality across the state.
Climate Works Pre-apprenticeship Hubs
To meet the needs of workers and companies in all 10 regions, this program will have three locations across the state: North, Central and South. “We know companies want that qualified workforce,” said Director Garcia. “Thinking about how we create that career pathway and pipeline, and make those connections is really critical in the clean energy space, especially for large businesses.” Their purpose is to recruit and provide pre-apprenticeship training so that upon completion of the program, candidates can be matched with an apprenticeship program. These hubs will work in tandem with the other programs as the start of the apprenticeship pipeline. Targeted careers are in construction, building and clean energy.
Coal to Solar Energy Storage Grant Program
Selected companies will receive $280.5 million over 10 years under this grant program, with the first round of funding starting in 2025 when the facilities are expected to be operational. The program provides incentives for companies to install energy storage facilities at the sites of five former coal plants that are either closed or in the process of closing. The extra storage helps quell fears about a lack of grid capacity raised by utility companies and brings jobs to the five different counties.