What’s being done to create equal access to clean energy and jobs in a new, carbon-free economy?

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CENTRAL ILLINOIS (WCIA)– For months we’ve covered a nearly thousand-page piece of legislation that commits Illinois, among many other provisions, to go 100% carbon-free by 2045.

The path to get there in the next 24 years could be tougher on some. So, what does the bill do to make sure access to clean energy is equal?

Equity was written into the bill, according to Andrew Rehn, a water resources engineer for the Prairie Rivers Network, a non-profit made up of clean energy advocates.

The bill included a fiscal note for a “just transition”. Rehn added soon enough, Champaign, Decatur and Danville will be home to workforce hubs for Central Illinois. These centers will be a place for people to get access to clean energy job training, according to Rehn, who added they will specifically cater to underserved populations, including people of color and those returning from prison.

“There are a lot of new jobs in wind and solar, and folks are going to be ready to be plugged into those jobs,” Rehn added. “People living in Champaign, Decatur, Danville, or nearby who are able to go to these hubs, will be able to plug right into this new economy.”

Grants will also be available to help cities and towns going through the transition into a brand new economy.

“When a power plant closes you lose a big percent of your tax base, and that means that you can’t fund your schools, you can’t fund your police department, your fire…You can’t rebuild the roads,” Rehn emphasized. “All that stuff becomes a lot harder so these grants, which will be administered by the Department of Commerce and Economic Opportunity, are going to be there to fill those gaps.”

The bill also multiplied the state’s Solar for All budget from $10 million to $50 million a year. Rehn said this will help make sure low-income communities have access to clean energy going forward.

So far, solar for all has taken on ten projects in Champaign-Urbana, according to Amanda Pankau, the Energy Campaign Coordinator for Prairie Rivers Network, including installing panels at the Cunningham Children’s Home.

Ginger Mills, Director for Advancement at the children’s home, said the solar panels will save them more than $16,000 a year. That money can be redirected to other needs.

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