Addressing Climate Change Requires All Carbon-free Sources of Energy

By Carol Browner, former Administrator of the Environmental Protection Agency


When it comes to economic opportunity generated by the inevitable transition to a clean energy economy and addressing the climate crisis by developing clean energy solutions, Illinois is leading the way.  

Newly inaugurated Governor J.B. Pritzker deserves praise for his recent executive order for Illinois to join the U.S. Climate Alliance and strengthen the state’s clean energy future. His commitment to addressing the effects of climate change, to meeting America’s pledge to reduce carbon pollution, and to protecting and preserving the state’s natural resources are laudable.  Illinois already has nearly 120,000 clean energy jobs, but by taking this action to address climate change and spur the innovation that will deliver cleaner, safer sources of energy, even more jobs will be created – while protecting our air, water, land and wildlife from pollution.

To achieve the transition to a clean energy future, and to meet the carbon pollution reduction goals of the Paris climate agreement, which is the goal of the U.S. Climate Alliance, we must embrace all forms of carbon-free energy, including developing more wind and solar as well as preserving our existing nuclear power fleet.

Illinois’ nuclear plants are critical to a strong, clean energy future, with nearly half of the electricity in the state produced from six nuclear generating facilities. In addition to its reliability, Illinois’ nuclear facilities provide a whopping 89 percent of the state’s carbon-free electricity. Nuclear power plants in Illinois also help prevent the carbon pollution emissions equivalent to 117 million cars from escaping into the environment and degrading air quality. And because nuclear energy is always on, we are often reminded of its value most during severe weather events like the recent polar vortex that drove temperatures down to a ruthless minus 30 degrees. Illinois’ nuclear power plants played an important role in keeping the lights on and the heaters running.

Gov. Pritzker understands, like I do, that climate change is a serious threat, rolling economic, environment, and health risks into one package.  In Illinois, these threats are real, including climate impacts like diminished agricultural production and poor air quality that endangers our health. To address these challenges, he has pledged to move Illinois forward by getting 100 percent of electricity from clean, renewable sources by 2050.

By acknowledging the value of Illinois’ existing nuclear power plants in keeping dangerous carbon pollution out of our environment, Gov. Pritzker would join a growing consensus of states like New Jersey, Connecticut, and New York as well as leading environmental groups, such as the Union of Concerned Scientists and the MacArthur Foundation, that have emphasized the position of nuclear in energy security and diversification.

Illinois has particular interest in creating a durable energy policy that can drive growth and reduce pollution. The governor’s executive order comes at a crucial time.  In the wake of a recent Federal Energy Regulatory Commission (FERC) Order, Illinois is in a strong position to take control of its clean energy destiny and set the state on course to decarbonize the electric sector. It is essential that the State recognize the importance of the state’s existing nuclear capacity.

This is a seminal moment for Illinois with a clear opportunity for the state to cement its place at the forefront of clean energy policy and to move forward on a path of achieving impressive zero-carbon goals and addressing climate change.  In Illinois, the existing nuclear power capacity is critical to that clean energy and climate friendly future.