Credit: Gerry Machen / Creative Commons

The president and CEO of the Solar Energy Industries Association says Illinois could save ratepayers money by supporting efforts to expand solar.

Abigail Ross Hopper

All across the country, state legislatures are establishing policies that prioritize the construction of renewable energy projects to replace the aging fossil generation system that has been in operation for decades.

The impetus behind that shift is cost and the public’s desire for clean energy. Legislators are hearing the public and, because of recent changes to law, Illinois is projected to be one of our country’s fastest-growing solar markets over the next five years.

Solar prices have fallen dramatically — they are now 55 percent lower than they were just five years ago — thanks to innovative technologies and manufacturing methods. In Illinois, the Illinois Power Authority and the solar industry are implementing Illinois’ energy reform legislation, the Future Energy Jobs Act, which became law a year ago. That law amends the state’s 25 percent by 2025 renewable energy target to require the construction of new wind and solar projects, in a package with $3.5 billion dollars in subsidies for Illinois’ existing nuclear power plants.

What may not have been anticipated even as recently as last year when the legislation passed is just how inexpensive solar energy has become. A recent energy procurement by the Illinois Power Authority received historically low-priced bids to develop new solar projects in the state. The bids were so low that they demonstrated solar is cost-competitive with other renewable energy sources and significantly cheaper than the cost of nuclear energy. In fact, according to the results from Illinois’ nuclear and solar power auctions in the last three months, had new solar (and wind) been procured instead of existing nuclear power, Illinois’ ratepayers would have saved $2.2 billion over the next 10 years.

Today, solar makes up less than one percent of Illinois’ electricity mix. The state must do more to ensure consumers and businesses can access the lowest-cost clean energy available because of the massive savings and job creation new solar energy projects in Illinois will provide ratepayers. This includes supporting the industry’s efforts to expand rooftop solar.

Right now, a large solar project is being built in Perry County, which will bring $100 million in investment into the area, add 200 construction jobs, and generate enough clean electricity to power 15,000 homes.

Solar projects like this are a boon to Illinois consumers, but they should only be the start. If Illinois enables all clean energy sources to compete on level footing, it can save taxpayers billions of dollars, and provide them a stable, resilient source of power.

Let’s not force taxpayers to invest in the past, when we have a clear path to a future that costs less and creates more jobs.

Abigail Ross Hopper is president and CEO of the Solar Energy Industries Association (SEIA), which represents solar installers, manufacturers, project developers, contractors, and financiers.