(The Center Square) – The livelihoods of Illinois fossil fuel workers are on the chopping block after lawmakers passed a new law, but the measure tries to soften the blow.
The Climate and Equitable Jobs Act, also known as CEJA, will close all fossil fuel plants by 2045, but lawmakers have tried to add provisions to help fossil fuel workers find training and transition to new jobs.
Amanda Pankau, energy campaign coordinator for the Prairie Rivers Network, which is involved in the “just transition” effort downstate, says this law gives Illinois the opportunity to be a leader in transitioning.
“We may not have gotten everything we wanted in the bill as far as how to support a just transition for fossil fuel communities and workers, but it’s certainly a win,” she said.
Support for transitioning workers includes a clean jobs workforce network, she said.
“These are 13 workforce hubs, contractor incubators that will be built across the state to provide clean energy jobs training,” she said. “The incubator program is more the business development side, and displaced energy workers will have preferred placement within these training programs.”
Among other things, the law creates a workforce commission to study and report on anticipated workforce impact and a coal-to-energy storage program.
“This is a program that’s going to provide incentives to build solar farms and battery storage facilities on the location of former fossil fuel plants,” Pankau said. “There’s infrastructure there, transmission lines, there’s a skilled workforce that is there in those communities, so by incentivizing the building of solar and battery storage at fossil fuel plants, we have an opportunity to send tax money back into those communities and also put some of those workers back to work.”
The renewable energy workforce is growing five times faster than overall statewide employment, according to Pankau.
“So there are certainly a lot of new jobs in clean energy,” she said.