Wind Farms Add Nearly $6B, 20K Jobs to Illinois Economy

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Illinois’ 23 largest wind farms will add $5.8 billion to local economies and result in the creation of more than 19,000 jobs over their useful lives, according to an Illinois State University Center for Renewable Energy study released this past week. The results provide additional fuel for US wind industry participants and supporters lobbying Congress to extend a key renewable energy subsidiy: the wind energy production tax credit or PTC.

“It’s important that decision-makers are educated about the economic development impact wind energy has on state and local communities so that informed decisions regarding future adoption of wind energy projects can be made,” said David Loomis, director of Illinois State’s Center for Renewable Energy. Loomis presented his findings at a press conference Tuesday at the sixth annual Advancing Wind Energy in Illinois conference in Normal.

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“Boom and Bust” Federal Renewable Energy Policy

Recent history suggests that allowing the wind energy PTC to expire will drastically reduce growth in a market and industry that’s been one of the few bright spots in the US economy in recent years. The CEO of Vestas, the world’s largest wind turbine manufacturer, recently stated that expiry of the wind energy PTC could result in an 80% drop in the US wind energy market. A study done for the American Wind Energy Association (AWEA) indicates that as many as 37,000 jobs would be lost.

To confound things, opponents in Congress at one and the same time push for additional cutbacks in support for renewable energy and clean energy, and rolling back of environmental and social welfare protections won long ago while pushing to preserve or increase fossil fuel industry subsidies, including the Keystone XL pipeline.

This at a time when the job and economic growth continue to flag. The Illinois State Center’s report notes that the state’s 23 largest wind farms support some 814 permanent jobs in rural areas, with an annual payroll of nearly $48 million. In addition, they yield $28.5 million in annual property taxes and $13 million a year in extra income for landowners who’ve leased their land to wind farm developers.

Illinois has been a leader in US wind energy development. Illinois ranks fourth in the nation in terms of total installed wind power, with 2,743 MW online as of the end of 2011. It ranked second, behind California, for the most new wind energy capacity installed, according to AWEA statistics.

Looking forward, planned wind farm projects in Illinois would create another 12,700 jobs and result in millions more dollars flowing through local economies through landowner lease payments and property taxes.

Planned new wind power capacity in Illinois’ McClean County alone totals 700 MW, enough clean, renewable electricity to power some 192,000 average homes. Livingston County (501.5 MW), Henry County (411.6 MW), and Ford County (145 MW) follow McClean in terms of Illinois counties with the most permitted wind energy projects, according to the ISU Center for Renewable Energy’s report.

Much of these vital economic, environmental, and social gains would be lost if Congress continues to oppose renewal of the wind energy PTC, according to the report. First enacted in 1992, the wind energy PTC has been a critical element underlying rapid growth and development of US wind power. It’s due to expire at year-end.

“In order to keep new jobs coming from wind energy, we need to see important state and federal policies in place,” Loomis said. “We’re on the cusp of seeing real price declines, which is why the subsidy is needed. In three to five years wind energy will be cost-competitive with other forms of electrical generation without the subsidy.”

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