Industry Rep. Makes The Case For More Solar Energy In Illinois

Aug 22, 2019

Illinois Solar Energy Association President Brian Haug
Credit Guy Stephens

Illinois Gov. J.B. Pritzker recently signed a measure repealing some restrictions on state efforts to enact green policies. That's encouraged advocates of renewable energy.

Brian Haug leads the solar energy division of electrical construction company Continental Electric. He's also President of the Illinois Solar Energy Association. He spoke with WNIJ during a ribbon cutting for a solar array at a private business near Hampshire.

Haug said the Future Energy Jobs Act gave a big boost to solar projects large and small, but added more could be done. He cited the solar arrays slated to supply so-called "community solar."

In the concept, a multi-acre solar array sends power directly into the grid. People can subscribe to a portion of the array's output, and receive a credit for the amount on their electrical bills.

"Because your house or your apartment may not be able to have solar put on it," Haug said. "But you can still benefit from green energy by subscribing to a community solar project."

Haug said demand for these projects, and the proposals for them, vastly exceeded the funding provided in the Future Energy Jobs Act.

"There are over 800 projects -- just in the Commonwealth Edison territory -- that have gone unfunded with incentives," he said, "because the demand is so high and the program right now is somewhat restricted on how much money is going into it to continue to develop these types of projects."

The Future Energy Job Act passed in 2017 calls for Illinois to get 25% of its energy from renewables by 2025. The head of the Illinois Power Agency that regulates these markets has said the Act's aspiration is not matched by the funding. Haug agreed, and said that will cause some headaches for the industry.

"Part of the problem is, it took a while to get the program up and running. And there's been such a built-up demand in solar developers wanting to build these projects, that we're going to see a huge boom in solar -- which we're seeing right now is happening as we speak," he said. "But then in a couple years, the money is going to wane a little bit. So we're going to have this dip, which is going to be very negative on the industry. And then in future years before we get to 2025, it'll start coming back up."

Haug said his group is trying to avoid that dip with legislation like the "Path to 100" that would put more money in to help achieve the 25% goal, and eventually move beyond it.  

"But right now, we're just trying to prevent that boom-bust cycle that Illinois has been so familiar with -- the 'solar coaster,' we like to refer to it as," he said.

But that hasn't happened yet. So what's the mood among the Association's members? Haug describes it as "optimistic excitement."

"We're all very busy. We're very excited. And I believe -- we all believe -- that the legislators are all going to be able to work together to come up with a solution that is equitable and amicable to all the players, and be able to fill this bust that's coming," he said.

Haug said the fall veto session will tell the tale.

Still, there are people who just see this as the state passing more mandates, and spending more taxpayer money. How does he justify that? The answer is twofold, he said. It boils down to clean energy and jobs:

"We are putting in solutions that are environmentally friendly. They're taking sun rays that are free and turning them into electricity. And it's going to be around for a long time. We're zero emissions. You know, we're not using fossil fuels. And all of that comes together in creating jobs for many, many people. Our company alone has just doubled -- if not quite tripled -- our size in the solar industry, for the number of people that we're employing. So it is continuing to grow."

And after a good start, Haug said the state needs to make sure it keeps the ball rolling in order to be a leader in renewable, particularly solar, energy production.