Illinois has more than 1800 megawatts of installed wind power capacity today. That ranks sixth in the U.S. The state's nearly seven-thousand megawatts of potential capacity ranks 16th in the country.
Illinois State University Professor of Economics Dave Loomis wants to see the state reach that potential. He says it would mean big economic development benefits for the state — not just on the development side itself — but in the supply chain. Loomis notes the Illinois Wind Working Group — a collaboration of entities interested in seeing wind energy advance in the state — has conducted a research report on the economic impact of the supply chain and found wind energy development would create jobs for Illinois manufacturers.
"We took the wind turbine capacity that's predicted to be installed in Illinois over a five year period from 2011 to 2015 and we said, 'what if all the parts were to be made here in Illinois?' If they made all of the parts for all the turbines that would be produced in Illinois, we found that there would be between 15.8 and 16.8-thousand jobs created, and those would be additional jobs on top of the other things that they'd be manufacturing. So almost 17,000 jobs potential and that would produce over a billion dollars in income and almost four-billion dollars in total output."
As a result, Loomis says it's clear wind energy is a win for both rural and urban areas. And by creating power in a greener and more sustainable way, he says it provides a better and cleaner environment for everyone to live in. That's why he says it's important to educate all stakeholders and the next generation. The Illinois Wind Working Group and the Renewable Energy Center at Illinois State University are doing just that. In five years the working group has done more than research; they've held four annual conferences that cover all aspects of wind energy, a specialized conference focused on the citing, zoning and taxation issues associated with wind farms, and landowner forums. After all, landowners are a key part of moving wind energy development forward.
"These would oftentimes happen when a wind developer would come to a new area and start talking with landowners about leasing their land and then they would have lots of questions. So we'll come into an area and we have somebody from the ag extension offices, I would oftentimes speak and kind of give an overview of wind energy and then we'd have a lawyer that would talk about the legal aspects of a lease and how to protect their rights."
The Renewable Energy Center Loomis helped start at Illinois State has three major goals. Loomis says one is supplying a workforce for the wind industry. That's made possible by the development of a renewable energy major at the college.
"We have a renewable energy undergraduate major that's interdisciplinary between the departments of economics, agriculture and technology. So we're really working to supply that skilled workforce that not just wind but all renewables are going to need as we move forward down this path. And so, we found a real need for undergraduate students that have a more interdisciplinary look at renewable energy as opposed to say an engineering degree with maybe just a couple of courses in renewable energy."
The Center also helps supply internships and job placement. Loomis says the major is so popular there's currently a waiting list. They also put on education programs and conduct research. Loomis says it's all part of an effort to help Illinois unlock its full wind potential.