Last week wind industry leaders and advocates gathered in Normal, Illinois to discuss the progress we're making in harnessing the power of the wind in the Prairie State.
A highlight of the gathering was the release of a new report documenting the economic impact wind is making in Illinois, and the numbers are striking. Among the key results, the study finds that the 3,334 megawatts of wind generation in Illinois:
· Will generate a total economic benefit of $5.98 billion over the projects' 25-year lifespan
· Provides $28.5 million in annual property taxes to local governments, and generates $13.05 million in annual lease payments to landowners
· Created approximately 19,047 full-time equivalent jobs during construction, and approximately 814 permanent jobs in rural Illinois with annual payrolls over $48 million
"It's important that decision-makers are educated about the significant economic development wind energy brings to state and local communities so that informed decisions regarding future adoption of wind energy projects can be made," said Dr. David Loomis, Director of Illinois State's Center for Renewable Energy
, and author of the report.
This is a fantastic start for the clean energy economy in Illinois, and one of the real economic bright spots in this difficult recession. Most promising is that it should be just the beginning -- if politics don't derail the progress.
In addition to the benefits to date, planned wind farm projects statewide would mean an additional 12,700 jobs and millions more to local economies through payments to landowners and property tax revenue. And of course, this comes at a time when other sectors of Illinois' economy are doing as well, so the jolt is badly needed.
"Wind jobs are very, very important as we bridge the recession," said Michael Matejka, governmental affairs director for the Great Plains Laborers District Council. "For laborers, wind farms have meant jobs a worker can be proud of, including family-sustaining wages. Laborers are proud to not only be building these wind towers, but building a sustainable future for our nation."
However, these additional benefits may not materialize for Illinois. A hot topic at this week's meeting was the threat to those projects from uncertainty about the extension of a federal tax break for wind energy developers, which is slated to expire at the end of this year.
The wind industry in Illinois has been jumpstarted by complimentary state and federal policies. At the state level, Illinois set in 2007 for steadily increasing percentages of our power to come from renewables like wind, increasing to 25 percent of our electricity by 2025. The federal end of the bargain has been the Production Tax Credit, which provides wind developers with a tax credit based on power they add to the grid.
Over the last decade, support for wind has been bipartisan in Springfield and in Washington. But in the hyper-partisan environment of the beltway, many Republicans are showing signs of digging in against anything that smacks of clean energy. Most Illinois members of Congress in the growing wind belt of northern and central Illinois have been silent on whether they support home-grown clean power.
We're in the middle of a summer that is showing us the urgency of moving beyond old dirty energy sources and toward renewables. We are halfway through the summer, but already Illinois has seen over 200 violations of healthy air standards, including warnings for kids and people with respiratory disease against outdoor activity. The entire state is gripped by the kind of drought and heat that scientists predict will be the new normal if we don't reduce global warming pollution quickly. Continuing the growing success of the Illinois wind industry is crucial to solving these pollution problems.
Sierra Club has launched a Wind Works campaign to convince Congress to extend the Production Tax Credit. Everyone who wants to keep our country moving to clean energy should let their member of Congress know they don't want to see the turbines that are churning out pollution-free power grind to halt.
Clearly wind is working for Illinois' economy and environment. Let's hope Illinois' congressional delegation can put all these benefits ahead of partisan politics, and unite behind extending the Production Tax Credit for wind power.