Spearheading “Solar for All” in the Midwest: How Illinois passed legislation to incorporate solar energy in low-income and environmental justice communities

April 2020
Olivia "Livvy" Hintz

As policymakers progress further into finding sustainable, renewable energy solutions for the United States, local and state governments have been fixating on solar power. The price of solar energy has dropped dramatically in recent years — but not quite low enough for low-income communities to independently make an investment. In order to mitigate the environmental injustice and economic inequity of solar installation, policies can be proposed to allow low-income customers to benefit from solar energy. This paper uses a case study of Illinois’s passage of the Future Energy Jobs Act of 2016, a bill that dedicates millions of dollars to community solar projects, low-income solar job training programs, and solar incentives for low-income communities. It finds that although the bill had bipartisan sponsorship, the supporting and opposing sides in the Illinois House of Representatives still remained heavily partisan. Furthermore, the results find that the funding behind the nuclear power plant bailout caused numerous concerns for skeptical representatives on both sides of the aisle, including state fiscal impact and the unknown effect on ratepayers. The important role partisanship and financial concerns played for FEJA suggests that a highly developed, cost neutral fiscal plan is crucial for gaining support for energy justice legislation in the Midwest.