By Jamey Dunn
A new report by the Environmental Law and Policy center found that wind power means job growth for Illinois, predominantly in the Chicago area.
The Environmental Law and Policy Center found that more than 100 businesses in Illinois are involved in the supply chain of the wind industry. About 60 of them are in or near Chicago. The city is home to 13 corporate headquarters of American and international wind energy companies.
“A major wind power project creates a lot of jobs. Everything from electric workers to construction workers to people who lay the concrete pads,” said Howard Learner, executive director of the ELPC. Learner said there is also potential for growth for financial and accounting firms, as well as Illinois’ stagnant manufacturing sector.
Learner added, “What we are seeing are old-line manufacturing firms retooling to make wind power components that are part of the clean energy economy future.”
Jerry Roper, president and chief executive officer of the Chicagoland Chamber of Commerce, said federal stimulus funds helped to jump-start the wind sector in Illinois.
Ashley Craig, and environmental business expert for the ELPC, said public money helps, but it doesn’t beat out a friendly policy climate for stimulation growth. “More than the federal subsidy money, I think the thing that has positively impacted the business the most is the policy decisions, and that’s consistent, really, with any business innovation that our country has experienced — everything from the Internet from the car industry to air travel. You don’t launch a large industry like this without federal and state support, and that doesn’t have to come in the form of money. Policy is just as important.”
Learner said the Illinois Renewable Electricity Standard, which requires utilities to purchase 25 percent of their power from renewable sources by 2025, has been key to the growth of wind power in the state. Of the 25 percent, 75 percent of the energy must come from wind power. The report also attributes growth to sales tax breaks on materials used to build wind energy projects, tax-free bonds to help spread out initial investment costs, and a consistent system for wind farm property tax assessments across the state
Sen. Mike Jacobs, chair of the Senate energy committee, said alternative energy sources, such as wind and solar, may not yet be consistent enough to rely upon, and lawmakers should be judicious when considering tax breaks or subsidies. He is concerned about asking consumers, especially in a down economy, to pay more for power. Jacobs, an East Moline Democrat, said it is a constant balancing act to keep old power sources thriving while still encouraging development of renewable energy.
“Everybody is really interested in jobs. … I just don’t think weakening incumbent utilities who provide us cheaper power is a good trade-off for us,” Jacobs said.
Roper said it will take more than government support to make the state a leader in wind power. He said the business sector also needs to focus on the potential of wind energy in Illinois. “Illinois can own a big part of what they’re calling … green jobs in America. [Wind energy] is probably the best definition of green jobs, as far as I’m concerned, and it’s something that needs to be touted out there in the marketplace.”