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State launches blueprint to help combat climate change

The Illinois Department of Natural Resources (IDNR) has launched a climate action plan to serve as a blueprint for reducing the agency’s carbon footprint and achieving the state’s greenhouse gas reduction goals by 2050. 

Plans include a pollinator-friendly solar installation, electric charging stations in state parks, greater use of electric vehicles and equipment and more.

Limited renewable energy generation is part of IDNR’s strategic and climate action plans. The climate action plan aims to reduce the agency’s carbon footprint to zero prior to 2050.

IDNR’s efforts also are designed to help the State of Illinois reach the greenhouse gas reduction goals set forth in Gov. J.B. Pritzker’s Executive Order 2019-06 that committed Illinois to joining the U.S. Climate Alliance, as well as the targets set in the Climate and Equitable Jobs Act, signed into law Sept. 15, 2021.

“Climate change affects all of us,” Pritzker said. “The efforts outlined in the plan will help us reach the targets we’ve set for reducing the state’s carbon footprint by 2050.”

Plans are underway for IDNR to develop a pollinator-friendly solar installation to combat climate change. The proposals will be for a Power Purchase Agreement (PPA), in which IDNR may license one or more 5- to 25-acre parcels of land formerly leased for agriculture and purchases the solar-generated electricity from the vendor at a discount. 

The PPA is a common model used by government entities. State sites were screened for any locations that could potentially conflict with recreational programs, natural areas, flood plains, funding sources used to acquire the land, and other considerations. A request for proposals will be posted on Illinois’ Bid Buy e-procurement portal soon.

IDNR has worked closely with the Smart Energy Design Assistance Center (SEDAC) at the University of Illinois to create a screening process to identify appropriate locations for solar systems and to assist in the development of a request for proposals from vendors. 

SEDAC also has facilitated a year-long series of meetings with 70-plus IDNR staff who volunteered to spearhead and champion the agency’s climate goals. Employees have come together from across the vast department – from wildlife and state parks staff to human resources and capital planning employees.

In mid-September, SEDAC will host electrical equipment demonstrations at IDNR’s Lewis and Clark State Historic Site in Madison County to help IDNR staff and the public learn more about commercial electric mowers and other site maintenance tools that reduce fuel use and costs while decreasing climate emissions from maintaining landscapes. 

Often, electric equipment such as blowers and chain saws have lower repair or maintenance costs, less physical wear-and-tear on operators, and reduce exposure to air pollution from exhaust fumes.

Representatives from several tool manufacturers will be on site to demonstrate their electric landscaping equipment, including zero-turn mowers, electric string trimmers, chainsaws, leaf flowers and more. Visitors will learn more about the feasibility of electric tools for their management needs and leave with information about the economic and environmental benefits of electric equipment. The event is free and open to the public.

At the Jake Wolf Memorial Fish Hatchery in Mason County, staff have implemented measures to reduce energy use and save taxpayers money. Through a combination of adjusting thermostats on coolers, switching to LED lighting, installing variable frequency drive pumps on wells, and other measures, the site was able to reduce its energy bill by 25% over two years.

Other short to medium-term IDNR climate action plan goals include:

  • Install electric vehicle charging stations in state parks around Illinois.
  • Uncover opportunities for energy conservation.
  • Reduce mowing and establish more pollinator habitat at state sites.
  • Reduce waste generated at state sites.
  • Reduce potable water use by infrastructure improvements to reduce loss due to leaks and pilot rainwater capture and graywater use systems.
  • Continue promoting human consumption of locally sourced Copi (invasive carp) from Illinois rivers to cut down on energy use associated with transporting products.
  • IDNR intends to establish pilot projects to evolve new practices and seek feedback prior to codifying practices in agency policy.

The IDNR climate action plan’s recommended strategies are organized into five key areas: utilities and buildings, sustainable site operations, climate-smart natural areas, equity, and learning and engagement. The plan includes recommendations for strategic approaches to achieving net zero, data tracking, and ongoing assessment. Equity, inclusion, learning, and engagement are foundational to the plan and its effective implementation.

To view IDNR’s climate action plan, visit https://dnr.illinois.gov/outreach/climate-action-plan.html.

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