Study outlines economic impact of wind farms

Study outlines economic impact of wind farms

The Pantagraph

NORMAL — The state’s 25 largest wind farms generate $30.4 million in annual property taxes and $13.86 million in extra income annually for landowners who lease their land to wind farm developers, according to a study released Thursday at Illinois State University.

The economic impact study, conducted by ISU’s Center for Renewable Energy, also concluded the total economic benefit for the life of the projects is $6.4 billion.

That impact could grow if Illinois boosts its wind energy production, but the right policies need to be in place, said David Loomis, the center’s director and lead author of the report.

“State energy policy will be key to Illinois’ wind energy future,” Loomis said. “Current legislative proposals could fix the state’s renewable portfolio standard and increase the percentage of our electricity coming from renewable energy.”

That means approving the Clean Jobs Bill, including the Renewable Portfolio Standard, which has been bottled up in Springfield.

“The federal deadlines on tax credits are ticking,” said Kevin Borgia, public policy manager for Wind on the Wires, a wind power advocacy group. “Energy has taken a back seat to the budget issue in Illinois.”

The study noted the Illinois Power Agency Act of 2007 was a key contributor to the rapid growth of wind power capacity in the state, which currently ranks fifth in the country. Illinois could move up to second, behind only Texas, by 2050, according to a report by the U.S. Department of Energy cited in the ISU study.

Although other states might be more efficient in generating wind power, Illinois benefits by being closer to the eastern United States, where demand for electricity is growing, the study says.

McLean County is the leader in Illinois — responsible for 15.1 percent of the state’s wind capacity with 546 megawatts, the study said.

In addition to tax revenue and money paid for land leases, wind energy also generates jobs.

During the construction phase of the 25 wind farms that were studied, 2,573 direct jobs were created, with 226 new long-term jobs during the operational phase. The latter are mostly wind turbine technicians, Loomis said.

The indirect economic impact of the projects include 17,600 jobs and an almost $2.8 billion boost to local economies, and 643 local jobs and $123.6 million a year contributed to local economies, the study concluded.

The study was released as part of the Illinois Renewable Energy Conference that took place Thursday at ISU.

The conference, in its second year, attracted about 275 people involved in wind, solar, biomass and geothermal energy as well as energy efficiency efforts and environmental groups.

While there were breakout sessions focused on particular areas of renewable energy, the conference also included sessions that bring all elements together.

Among the panel discussions was one on opportunities for educational institutions. It featured Heartland Community College’s wind turbine project and a solar energy project at the Farmington school district.

“That kind of cross-pollination is what this conference is all about,” said Loomis.

Follow Lenore Sobota on Twitter: @pg_sobota



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