The entire country has been trending towards clean energy solutions for the past decade, but some are more committed to the movement than others. While Illinois has fallen behind in solar and wind energy, it’s still providing tons of jobs in other sections of this industry.
According to the Chicago Tribune, the Chicago-based Clean Energy Trust recently completed its first Clean Jobs Midwest report, which analyzed the growth of clean energy jobs in 12 Midwest states. Illinois was the top performer among all other states in this report, boasting 114,000 clean energy jobs with a 9% job growth rate in the past year.
Additionally, it seems as though the clean energy movement in Illinois is here to stay for the foreseeable future. Clean energy jobs in Illinois are expected to grow another 5.3% this year, exceeding the 4.4% average projected growth rate for the other 11 states.
Despite this impressive progress, it’s worth noting that Illinois has fallen behind in solar and wind energy jobs. In fact, the state lost 10.8% of its wind jobs and 3.4% of its solar jobs between 2014 and 2015.
However, its strong showing in this report is largely tied to job growth in energy-efficiency sectors such as heating and air conditioning, which many people do not associate with clean energy.
“People understand the idea of someone screwing a wrench on solar panels on someone’s roof or putting up a wind turbine,” said Ian Adams, director of public affairs at Clean Energy Trust. “A significant part of this economic activity is happening in (energy efficiency), where people at first glance might not realize there are clean energy activities going on.”
These overlooked clean energy jobs include tasks such as spray foam insulation installation, which can reduce heating costs up to 50%. In turn, these projects allow homeowners to use less energy on a daily basis.
As for the lack of progress in the solar sector, Adams attributes this issue to complicated state policy. The Illinois Power Agency currently collects all state funding that should go towards clean energy, but a regulatory problem has funneled most of this money into unrelated projects.
Illinois has suffered a significant setback in solar energy as a result of this funding snafu, though the rest of the Midwest isn’t faring much better. According to the Solar Energy Industries Association, California leads the nation in solar electric capacity, and there is not one Midwest state in the top 10.
Peter Littlewood, director of Argonne National Laboratory, believes that the Midwest will see more solar energy job growth in the near future. The federal government plans to spend $20 billion on clean energy research and development in the next five years, and much of this funding will end up in the great state of Illinois.
“The Midwest is well-poised to take big chunks of that, because of the concentration we have of a very interesting mix of international labs and universities that play a big role,” Littlewood said.
Though Illinois may not be a national leader in solar or wind energy, it’s certainly doing its part to provide clean energy jobs in other essential ways.