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Climate Change Roundtable: The Future Of Coal Is 'Bleak'

Michael Brown
Ecology Action Center

The energy economy is changing in a way that there may be no way to save coal and coal jobs as President Trump has pledged.  

A discussion of different types of energy and what local communities can do as the Trump Administration pulls back on addressing climate change dominated an hour long roundtable discussion at the the Illinois Sustainable Living and Wellness Expo recorded on Saturday and presented Monday on Sound Ideas

"The Trump Administration's position on coal, for instance, are laughable," said Bill Rau, a retired Illinois State University Professor and local activist. "To bail out coal they would have to provide massive subsidies to coal operations and I don't see that happening." 

Rau said it's basically a no brainer to switch to wind and solar because of major break throughs on price. He said fossil and nuclear fuel energy generators can't compete in the open market. 

The Future Energy Jobs Bill, passed with bipartisan support in December of 2016, included a bailout for nuclear power in the state. Shannon Fulton with Straight Up Solar and immediate past president of the Illinois Solar Energy Association said the nuclear power bailout was a poison pill sustainable energy advocates overlooked because of the rest of the benefits of the bill, signed by Governor Rauner. Despite zero greenhouse gas emissions, nuclear isn't considered clean or sustainable because of radioactive waste. 

Credit Staff / WGLT
Kathy Packard, in front of her home in Normal, during a 2016 solar panel installation.

"It's going to create tens of thousands of jobs," said Fulton. "We have goals to grow from 60 megawatts to 1,350 megawatts (from solar) by 2020."  The Solar Energy Industries Association estimates one megawatt of power generation from solar can power up to 164 homes.

Fulton also sang the praises of the bill's job training programs. In 2016 the coal industry shed 1,200 jobs and stands at about 2,800 people employed in coal. Solar now employees about 3,700 people, according to the non-profit Solar Foundation. 

"We're going to see major growth," said Fulton. "One of the major challenges to meeting the goals of the Future Energy Jobs Act is having enough capacity in Illinois to meet the guidelines, the 1,350 megawatts, it's going to be tough."

Credit Michael Brown / Ecology Action Center
Ecology Action Center
Shannon Fulton with Straight Up Solar and past president of the Illinois Solar Energy Association.

In addition, because of China ambitious clean energy goals, many of the solar panels manufactured there are staying in China. She says a lack of panels is slowing down installations in Illinois. However, the shortage could also present an opportunity for U.S. manufacturers. 

Other participants in the discussion on Saturday included Bloomington Mayor Tari Renner, Town of Normal Mayor Chris Koos and Dave Holmquist with the Citizen's Climate Lobby. The Illinois Sustainable Living Wellness Expo is staged by Ecology Action Center and Illinois Wesleyan University. 

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